Review: You Ain’t Never Heard a Baritone Like His




James Monroe Iglehart in his show “How the Heck Did I Get Here?” at Feinstein’s/54 Below.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

“How the Heck Did I Get Here?” That’s the jolly, mystified title of James Monroe Iglehart’s lighthearted show at Feinstein’s/54 Below, in which he traces his path from a choirboy growing up in Hayward, Calif., to Broadway glory. Two years ago, Mr. Iglehart, 42, won a Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical as the Genie in “Aladdin.” His show on Monday evening was a casually friendly career survey devoid of the preening grandiosity that often accompanies such autobiographies.

Although Mr. Iglehart’s style has veered in several directions, his roots are in gospel. In his most impressive performance, of the James Cleveland standard “I Don’t Need Nobody Else (as Long as I’ve Got Jesus),” the club momentarily became a church, and Mr. Iglehart and his band, led by the keyboardist and musical director Bill Sherman, were completely at home. At moments like those, the show reminded you how sanitized Disney songs like “Friend Like Me,” his signature number from “Aladdin,” are secular gospel songs.


Iglehart Performs ‘Friend Like Me’

The Tony nominee James Monroe Iglehart performs “Friend Like Me” from the Broadway musical “Aladdin.”

By Erik Piepenburg and Erik Braund on Publish Date May 28, 2014.


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As a boy, Mr. Iglehart said, he was obsessed with the Cowardly Lion in “The Wiz.” Years before the popularity of karaoke, he recalled how young performers had to make do with sheet music instead of recorded tracks for accompaniment.

In the 1980s, as rap and pop-soul jostled for prominence, he said he made the mistake of singing the Lionel Richie ballad “Hello” for elementary school students, who excoriated his performance of something so square. He has since adjusted, and on Monday delivered a freestyle rap based on audience suggestions.

But Mr. Iglehart’s calling card is the strength and resilience of his robust baritone, whether the material is a pop standard like “All the Way” or a sexy provocation like Barry White’s “Never Never Gonna Give You Up.” It is the kind of large, steady instrument that in the long run is trend-resistant.

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