Don Darryl Rivera is a self-professed “Disney nerd.” A glimpse inside his Mickey Mouse- and Aladdin-lamp-decorated office is big giveaway. When he learned he earned the role as Iago in the Broadway musical Aladdin, it was quite an emotional experience. “I distinctly remember my hands going numb as a I got the call from the [casting office],” Rivera says. “I hung up the phone, cried and then called my mom and dad, my sister and my wife. It was a really awesome day.”
Disney film buffs will recall that that in the Aladdin animated film (1992), Iago is a parrot voiced by the late Gilbert Gottfried, but in the Broadway adaptation Rivera is all human, but equally witty and wisecracking as the sidekick to the main mischief maker, Jafar. “The Broadway version of Iago captures the spirit of what Iago was in the film and brings it into full 360 Disney villainy,” Rivera says.
When Rivera isn’t providing comic relief at New York’s New Amsterdam Theatre eight shows a week, he’s spending time with his wife Kate, daughter Eloise, or moonlighting as a playwright and composer. He wrote the book, and earned two Seattle Times Footlight Awards, for the world-premiere musical based on the beloved children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, which was staged in his Seattle hometown.
Here, we talk to Rivera about what he loves most about Iago, performing on stage, one memorable on-stage shoe snafu and more!
What do you love about your character? How do you relate to him?
I love the scale that Iago lives on. For Iago, everything is so extreme—the solution for him is usually violence (laughs), and he has some really great one liners!
I relate to the character in this way: I have an older sister… I spent my formative years tormenting her – so I guess, I’ve been training as a villain my whole life?!
How has your background or personality influenced how you portray your character?
I’ve had some great training in physical comedy over the years and using those skills for Iago is really important. He is a character that has these huge reactions, wears a big, beautiful costume [designed by Tony Award Winner Gregg Barnes)] and is the sidekick to a really nefarious villain, so as we were in rehearsal, I found ways to physically support the character and literally fill the costume!
If you could play any other character in this show, who would it be?
I would love to play the Genie. Hands down.
When you decided to be a performer, how did your family and friends react?
My parents immigrated from the Philippines in the 1970’s and my whole family (including cousins, aunts and uncles) all either attended the University of Washington in my hometown of Seattle or have worked there for many, many years. So, when I decided to attend Cornish College of the Arts, they thought I was taking a risk, but knew that I could rise to the occasion.
How do you keep your performance fresh after 8 shows a week, month after month?
It’s the audiences. They’re the invisible cast member that keeps the “balloon up in the air,” so to speak. There’s an electricity between the performers and the audience that make live theatre exciting. Even after we’ve performed the show over the last eight years, no one performance is truly and exact replica of the last… and I think that’s one reason that keeps it fresh for me.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on stage? Or backstage?
Well… where do I begin? After 2600-plus performances, there have been many things that I’ve stored as funny core memories. I think one of the funniest things that has happened to me onstage was in 2013, in Toronto during our pre-Broadway tryout. The stage was above the level of the dressing rooms, and if you’ve seen the show, I wear these intimidating, beautiful shoes that have a six-inch spike protruding upwards off the toe. Those spikes made it really challenging for me to go up the stairs to the stage level, so I used to wear slippers and change my shoes right before I went on stage.
Well, one night right before [the song] “Diamond in the Rough,” I forgot to change my shoes and went on stage with slippers. My whole body went stiff as I realized what I had just done, so in between lines I ran to the edge of the wings and pointed at my shoes. Jonathan Freeman, who was the original Jafar on Broadway and voiced Jafar in the film, said I was running to the edge of the wings because he thought I wasn’t feeling well and thought I was gonna lose my lunch! (laughs) A stage manager saw I wasn’t wearing the right shoes and ran to get my shoes in a flash and with a little Disney magic, I was wearing the right shoes just in time to do the number without really leaving the stage.
See Aladdin on Broadway at the legendary New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City. For more information visit aladdinthemusical.com.