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posted: 2/4/2014 5:30 AM

'Aladdin' role on Broadway opens whole new world for Elgin native

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  • Elgin native Courtney Reed plays Jasmine to Adam Jacobs' "Aladdin" in the Broadway musical inspired by the Disney film.

      Elgin native Courtney Reed plays Jasmine to Adam Jacobs' "Aladdin" in the Broadway musical inspired by the Disney film.

  • Broadway star Courtney Reed credits an Elgin children's theater and local dance studio for putting her on the road to success in the arts.

      Broadway star Courtney Reed credits an Elgin children's theater and local dance studio for putting her on the road to success in the arts.

  • Elgin native Courtney Reed takes her workshopped Jasmine lead to Broadway when she stars in "Aladdin" this month.

      Elgin native Courtney Reed takes her workshopped Jasmine lead to Broadway when she stars in "Aladdin" this month.

  • Back at Larkin High School, Courtney Reed starred in "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

      Back at Larkin High School, Courtney Reed starred in "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

  • Video: Behind Broadway's ALADDIN

 
 

Elgin native Courtney Reed had never seen a Broadway musical.

Or even been to New York.

Yet, six months after graduating from Roosevelt University's theater program, there she was on 42nd Street going to her first rehearsal for the Broadway musical "Mamma Mia."

"It was crazy!" Reed said. "I flew to New York by myself. My first rehearsal was the next day. So, I had to take the train and it takes me right to 42nd Street."

On her way, a sign caught her eye.

"I look up and there's a massive billboard for 'Mamma Mia.' It was all so exciting! Taking it all in. It was overwhelming!"

The story gets better.

After playing Jasmine in the Seattle and Toronto workshops for Disney's "Aladdin" (based on the movie starring the voice of Robin Williams as the genie), Reed will continue performing her role with the Feb. 26 launch of the musical at the New Amsterdam Theatre, Broadway and 42nd Street.

"I still can't believe this!" she burbled. "It's unbelievable the number of people who've auditioned for this show and this role in particular. I read it was record-breaking, the number of people who auditioned for this show."

(Our Manhattan sources confirm that "Aladdin" casting directors spent a couple of years looking for just the right performers.)

"People in this industry are ridiculously talented," Reed said. "I think in my case it was being the right type at the right time."

And with the right skill set, we should add.

When Reed was a little girl back in Elgin, she watched "Aladdin" on home video over and over. The Middle Eastern tale revolves around a street kid who pretends to be a prince -- with the help of a wisecracking genie -- to win the heart of the spirited Princess Jasmine.

"Even then, it was still special, because Jasmine was the first ethnic Disney princess I'd ever seen."

Reed was born "in the heart of Elgin," as she described it, the daughter of Tipawan Reed, head of a not-for-profit organization, and Porter Reed, now retired from the Illinois State Board of Education.

Courtney Reed graduated from Larkin's Visual and Performing Arts Academy where she majored in drama. From there, she trained at the Theatre Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

She nabbed a few jobs on TV commercials, worked in industrial videos and the like. She also acted in area stage productions.

Then, her agent booked Reed into the cast of "Mamma Mia" in 2006 without auditioning her in New York.

From there, the Elgin powder keg began exploding by being cast in the Tony-winning musical "In the Heights" (she played Carla) and by appearing in TV roles on "Law & Order: SVU," "White Collar," "NYC 22" and "CSI: NY." She also played Andrea in "Once on This Island" for New Jersey's prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse.

Reed credits her sister for all of this.

"My older sister took a lot of dance classes, and I really did follow in her footsteps," Reed said. "I remember feeling so free onstage. That was like the best time of my life! I always wanted to do something I was interested in and had so much fun doing."

She paused, then added, "This was sort of an automatic thing that I would go into performing. I didn't have any other skills."

Even though Reed has already played Jasmine on two pre-Broadway runs, she said making her "Aladdin" debut in the Big Apple is a little different.

"It's so real now because critics will come and the theater community will come to see it," she said. "This is it!"

But at heart, she'll remain a girl from deep in the heart of Elgin. She wouldn't have it any other way.

"I think people in Toronto are very close to Midwesterners," she observed. "New Yorkers seem to be very fast-paced. Everything is pretty much to the point.

"L.A. people sort of have hidden agendas. Chicagoans? They take a little more time. They remember to say hi. They take the time to ask how your day is going. New Yorkers don't have time for that. They don't go out of their way.

"Chicago is a very special city. People are kind. They'll look at you and they'll smile."

-- Dann Gire


Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a great feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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