Age: 25 • Born: Akron • Home & Creative Space: New York City • Education: BA in musical theater from Baldwin Wallace University
By Bob Abelman
Marcus Martin is living the “42nd Street” fantasy. After graduating from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea in 2020 and riding out the pandemic, he hit the ground running by landing the role of Genie in the re-imagined North American tour of Disney’s “Aladdin,” to be launched in October.
He knew he was made for the stage after what he calls “epic fails” at sports. A mental light switch turned on at the age of 6 while attending a theater camp at Weathervane Playhouse in Akron’s Merriman Valley. Years later, after seeing the musical “Aladdin,” Martin realized that his dream role was the Genie. And when he saw on television “fellow plus-sized actor” James Monroe Iglehart win the 2014 Tony for his Broadway portrayal, he says he knew playing that role was a possibility.
Later that year, when he had an opportunity to talk at length to Baldwin Wallace student Kyle Jean-Baptiste – who would soon go on to be the youngest and first Black actor to play the role of Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables” on Broadway – Martin knew BW’s musical theater program was the place to attend for his training.
“Kyle was the personification of everything I wanted to be,” Martin says.
While a junior at Copley High School, Martin applied for and was accepted into Baldwin Wallace ’s highly competitive Overture program. There, he spent a week on campus taking private voice lessons, daily workshops and monologue and dance classes, all while working with the program’s legendary director Vicky Bussert.
As if that wasn’t enough to put the nationally-renowned BW on his radar, Martin recalls “my family had a season subscription to the Broadway series at Playhouse Square and, as I read through the playbill bios of actors show after show, so many were BW alums. When I did the college audition circuit, I already knew that BW was the place for me.”
When Martin was accepted into the program, he was the first recipient of the Kyle Jean-Baptiste Memorial Scholarship, created after the actor died in an accident two days after his final performance as Valjean and just before starting rehearsals for the Broadway revival of the musical “The Color Purple.”
During his senior year at BW, Martin earned his equity card performing as Marcellus Washburn in “The Music Man” at Great Lakes Theater, which was directed by Bussert. Upon graduation, he prepared to move to New York City, but what came next was the COVID-19 pandemic. From his home in Akron, “I did a lot of virtual work, including gala performances for theaters I’ve worked at previously.
“But Vicky always recommended that we prepare for an audition of a show we know we are right for, so that we are ready and ‘director proof’ if it actually happens,” Martin says. “I worked on the material for my then-imaginary audition for Genie.”
And then it was announced there would be a new national tour of “Aladdin.”
“So, when my agent set up an appointment for an audition in February of this year, I was more than ready for it,” he says. “In school I learned that you don’t try to book the role during an audition, you just try to win the room.”
Which he did. Martin was then invited back to do a work session with the associate creative team. He was brought back to dance and perform new material before additional movers-and-shakers. And then there was a final audition in March, where they brought in other actors to play against.
“By the end of the month, I had the job,” he says.
Martin is back in Akron learning the show’s music and building his stamina in the gym. “There’s one crazy long number that is an endurance test,” he says, “and I need to be ready for it.”
It matters little that Martin’s “42nd Street” journey does not take him to Broadway.
“While I wouldn’t have turned my nose up at Broadway, I always wanted to book a tour and do one of my favorite things besides sing and dance, which is travel,” he says.
“When I first met Marcus, I think the first thing I said to him was that he should be the Genie in ‘Aladdin.’ He was not only loaded with an incredible amount of talent, his joy and enthusiasm literally filled the room. Marcus always demanded 100% from himself – a quality instilled by his amazing mother, Angela Thorpe-Martin. He constantly wanted the best for his fellow students and fellow performers. Landing the lead in a national tour at the age of 24 is certainly a rare occurrence, but when it comes to Marcus, it is absolutely not surprising.”Vicky Bussert, director of music theater program and professor of theater, Baldwin Wallace University
• North American Tour of Disney’s “Aladdin” at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, with Marcus Martin as Genie, from March 8-12, 2023. Call 216-241-6000 or visit playhousesquare.com