The Show Must Go On
Michael James Scott sang his way to Broadway and he’s refused to let the pandemic close the curtain on his creativity.
Like the rest of us, Michael James Scott’s year hasn’t gone exactly as planned. But for the acclaimed Broadway star, 2020 ended similarly to how it began; with him on stage performing in front of a live audience in his hometown of Orlando.
“I don’t get to come back [home] often, but I started off this year playing the Genie in Aladdin, which was an unbelievable experience for a hometown boy … to [perform] for a community that I hold so near and dear to my heart,” Scott says.
Recognized for playing the aforementioned Genie in the stage adaptation of the popular Disney classic, Scott has also had star turns in Something Rotten!, The Book of Mormon and dozens of other stage shows. For a kid who used to sing and dance for audiences everywhere from supermarkets to the theme parks, it’s been a dream come true.
“I was hooked,” says Scott. “There has never been anything else I wanted to do. Ever.”
But with the theater industry shut down due to the coronavirus, Scott has had to find other ways to release his creative side. Virtual shows and the like have filled some of the void, but the slowdown made another lifelong dream of Scott’s a reality when he got to record his first holiday album, A Fierce Christmas.
“A holiday Christmas album was something I knew I was going to do since I was a little boy,” he says. “A lot of actors practice Emmy and Oscar speeches; I’ve been practicing my holiday album.”
The pandemic has been difficult and stressful for people from all walks of life, but what has it been like for you? How have you coped with not being able to perform, something you are accustomed to doing several times a week?
I call 2020 the “year of the pivot,” especially on Broadway which is about bringing people together … that live experience. It is truly devastating for us that we don’t have that and so we have been trying to find ways to connect virtually—events and concerts and all the other things I’ve been able to do during this time to keep the artistry that I so believe in alive. I’m thankful I have been able to really find all the avenues to make it all still happen.
And you’ve stayed busy with the release of your new Christmas album. What was the inspiration behind the project?
We are so divided in this country right now, but as divided as we are, holiday music can bring us together. I really wanted to bring some joy to the end of 2020. We need some comfort and if we can take that joy into 2021, at least we know we can start off the year with some light as opposed to the darkness that we have been in for this year.
I know you were supposed to perform at the Jersey Shore this summer but the show was postponed due to the pandemic. Are you looking forward to getting back to the area?
So, I was looking forward to performing in Ocean City this past summer at the pier. Right now, it’s been rescheduled for next year, which I am so excited about. I have some ties to little theater companies around the [Philadelphia/South Jersey] area. Some of the best theater—obviously Broadway is incredible—but there’s so much amazing theater around the country and in that area that is fantastic.
What is the most challenging part of performing on stage that us folks in the audience wouldn’t recognize?
First of all, we are athletes on Broadway doing an eight-shows-a-week schedule. You have to be in tip-top shape physically, mentally and emotionally. People don’t realize the day to day. The peak of our day is 7:30 or 8 p.m., and once you get to the theater, it doesn’t matter what kind of day you’ve had. The audience doesn’t care about that, they came to see a fantastic show.
I also think people don’t realize the amount of training it takes to be on stage and the discipline that goes into it.
You’ve also done some television work; do you have a preference between being on stage or being in front of a camera?
It’s so different. I started in TV and film because I was a child actor. But there is something truly magical about the stage and that live audience and what you get from them. I’m partial to the stage because there’s just something about it. But there is beauty in TV and film as well because it allows you to do so many things you can’t do on a stage.
You are obviously recognized for playing the Genie in Aladdin. Were you a big a Disney fan growing up in Orlando?
Totally, I’m such a big old Disney kid. I performed at Disney growing up and so it definitely is a full-circle dream to be the Genie on Broadway. I am an Orlando boy playing the Genie, here we go, Mickey is my boss again, I can’t escape the Mouse [laughs]. It’s a wonderful privilege.
You also have so many other notable credits to your name. What roles have been some of your favorites?
I loved playing Donkey in Shrek. I originated the Minstrel in Something Rotten! on Broadway and I was in the original Broadway company playing Dr. Gostwana in The Book of Mormon. I was actually in the very first secret reading of The Book of Mormon, which was a fun and wonderful thing.
A little bit different than Disney.
Yes [laughs], a lot different. I did Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall and I thought I would never sing those type of lyrics again, I’ve now gone to the extreme. Then the very next day, I did the secret reading of what is now The Book of Mormon. As you can imagine, it was very different.
Do you like being able to show that versatility?
Yes, thank you for bringing that up. I think it’s important to talk about because as actors we are put into a box—what we do, what we don’t do. I’ve been pretty blessed that you cannot put me in a box. I was always going to find a way to punch it open.
Click here to subscribe to the free digital editions of South Jersey Magazine.
To read the digital edition of South Jersey Magazine, click here.
Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 10 (January 2021).
For more info on South Jersey Magazine, click here.
To subscribe to South Jersey Magazine, click here.
To advertise in South Jersey Magazine, click here.