By Sarah Downs
Major Attaway, singer, voice actor and former Genie in Broadway’s long running hit “Aladdin” is aptly named. He is definitely major. Fun, expressive, larger than life in personality and stature — he is someone who was born for the spotlight. In his show “The Genie’s Jukebox,” that outsize personality is front and center. After playing the Genie for over three years (the longest tenure of any actor in that role), Attaway is taking his lamp and going on the road.
Backed by a terrific band, featuring sensational trumpeter and Musical Director Augie Haas, Attaway has brought full-on jazz dramedy to 54Below. He kicked off the evening with a fabulous parody of Minnie the Moocher – with bespoke lyrics referencing Attaway’s life as a Genie. It was fantastic. What better way to get a crowd in the mood than to have them join in the echo of a rollicking “Hi-dee, Hi-dee, Hi-dee, Hi.” Indeed, as the original template for the role of the Genie in the Disney animated film was a combination of Cab Calloway and Fats Waller, it was a fitting musical statement.
Attaway has long harbored the dream to play a villain, and his erstwhile lamp (now a jukebox) has brought out the devil in him. All in good fun, he gives an array of Disney baddies the Attaway treatment, embarking on his wicked journey with a marvelously slinky arrangement of “Cruella DeVille” (101 Dalmations). He milks every lyric and sneaky wiggle of his eyebrows, reaching effortlessly over the footlights. On this tune Augie Haas played a particularly inspired, foot stomping trumpet solo. Haas’s next level technique, musicianship, and improvisational skill elevated the performance. Like Attaway, Haas gives it his all.
Preferring the more fiendish villains of yore to the modern day, softened villains, who are as he says, really “villain adjacent”, Attaway delights in theatrics. He has a great, expressive stage face. Singing Japhar’s “The Other Side” (Aladdin) he put over the lyrics with broad gesture and exaggerated expression. He prowls his way through “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” (The Aristocats), stalking the audience like a sexy feline, ready to pounce. In “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (The Little Mermaid), another highlight of the show, he growls, purrs, rumbles, moving easily through his bass/baritenor range. In his lower register, Attaway’s voice takes on a lovely Johnny Hartman color and greater resonance. I could easily imagine Ataway crooning ballads and big band standards. I’d happily buy a ticket to see that.
Attaway invited friend and fellow Genie Korie Lee Blossey to join him onstage for a handful of duets. Two broad chested Genies in one show! They buoyed “When We’re Human” (The Princess and the Frog) with a playful game of one upmanship born of long friendship and time spent onstage together. (‘Oh, you’re going to belt that note? Well, try this on for size!’) Countless performances together breed an easy collegiality that is infectious. It’s that ‘I got your back’ quality that one cannot fabricate. At moments the jokes were a little too ‘in,’ which threatened to derail the evening’s focue, but only for a moment.
Pianist Eugene Gwozdz supports Attaway with vigor, playing Fats Waller stride piano, New Orleans jazz and everything in between. I particularly appreciated his offhand inclusion of the theme from I Dream of Jeannie in an ad lib musical moment. That’s a skillset. Standing bassist Jeff Koch plays with style and restraint. Ray Marchica on drums drive the pace with assurance and swing.
In “The Genie’s Jukebox” Attaway is out of the bottle and playing to win. Treat yourself to the opportunity to see him perform.
Major Attaway: The Genie’s Jukebox starring Major Attaway; Augie Hass, Musical Director. Presented by Feinstein’s/54 Below on January 31, 2022 at 9:45 pm. There is a $30-$65 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available at www.54Below.com. Tickets on the day of performance after 4:00 are only available by calling (646) 476-3551. All audience members are required to show proof of vaccination to enter the premises.