The star of the upcoming Disney musical gives Playbill an inside look at how he likes to spend his summer.
Jelani Alladin, who stars in the titular role of the upcoming Public Works stage adaptation of Hercules, is en route to New York City’s Roosevelt Island via a tram, hovering 250 feet above the East River, and grinning from ear to ear. The actor isn’t just traveling to the thin piece of land that separates Manhattan and Queens; for him, it’s a journey down memory lane.
“My mom would take us on excursions to rare places in New York that people don't often venture to,” the Brooklyn native explains. “Roosevelt Island is a little slice of heaven. If you stand anywhere on this island, you can see Manhattan around you. And as a kid, everything just seems bigger.
"[The fact that] Manhattan is an island with millions of people who have different stories and different lives doesn’t hit you until you step away and look at it," says Alladin. "We’re not too far away but we’re just far enough where you can stand and be like ‘Whoa, holy moly, that’s a big island.”
Sitting on a park bench, Alladin reflects on his New York summers. “Summer in the city reminds me that anything is possible—you've just got to make time for yourself. Get out of your apartment, get out of an enclosed area, and enjoy the open air. Explore things that are outside of your norm. Take the dare. Take the leap in general. Stop playing it safe and start living a little more!”
A New Yorker who is deeply in love with his own city, perhaps it's kismet that the actor, who begins performances as Hercules in Central Park August 31, is starring in a production alongside over 200 of the city’s residents. “[The performers] are the people of New York City; they live in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens—those are my people. To be in a room with people who are just there because they love to create and it’s a passion of theirs… it’s emotional for me because I am one of them.”
“Community is the reason why I exist. My life has been made of people [supporting] me with no guarantee that something would come back to them. I think the Public Theater does that for New York City.”
Flip through photos of Jelani Alladin in Playbill's "Summer in the City" series below:
Explore Roosevelt Island With Hercules’ Jelani Alladin