Courtesy of Playhouse Square
During his time in Cleveland, Baldwin Wallace graduate, Ellis Dawson III, more than made a dent in the local acting scene. His performance as the titular role in 2016's The Toxic Avenger: The Musical
at Cain Park was such a standout Scene
called him "a hero's hero, complete with green warts, a dangling right eye, glued-on muscles, a charming personality and a nice voice."
After saying farewell to the stages of Northeast Ohio, Dawson moved to New York City to pursue his Broadway dreams. Now, Dawson returns to Cleveland with the national touring production of Disney's Aladdin
as the standby for Babkak and most notably, the Genie.
While a native of Virginia, Dawson tells Scene
that Cleveland is the place that helped shape him into the performer he is today.
"Three words: Baldwin Wallace University," he says. "I think I talk about my training at that school at least five times a week. Victoria Bussert, the head of BWMT, gave me the freedom to play and explore as an actor and my stage manager on tour has allotted me the same freedom. The biggest difference is the size of the [theatre] houses— they’re massive."
Playing a role as iconic as Robin Williams' Genie can be intimidating, but Dawson says he was well prepared.
"I was taught how to make big, bold interesting choices and that is literally the Genie — big and bold," he says. "I’ve also flexed my muscle professionally at Cain Park, which taught me all about stamina and how to be consistent during a longer run."
But Dawson nearly missed his opportunity to audition for Aladdin
"Before I was cast in Aladdin
I had been cast in a dream role in the play Choir Boy
," Dawson explains. "It would’ve been my first play and a role I’d really have to dig deep to conjure up. Unfortunately, something came up where I couldn’t do it. I was devastated. The director was upset I couldn’t do it. I remember being so angry at the world for showing me my dream and taking it away. However, if I did that contract, I would’ve been out of NYC for auditions for the Genie, which would’ve made me ineligible for being considered for the role. So, I got to audition and well, you know the rest."
As with any performance, sometimes the character calls you to act a way completely different from your own personality.
"I’m pretty shy in real life and wouldn’t consider myself a natural born leader; I kind of march to my own drum," Dawson says. "However, when I’m onstage as the Genie, I’m the leader; I orchestrate it all. It’s pretty exhilarating."
Through a collaboration between Baldwin Wallace University and the Beck Center for the Arts, one of Dawson's last roles in Cleveland was starring in a production of In The Heights,
the Tony award winning musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton
"That was my first huge
role where I was telling the story and truly leading a cast," he recalls. "I relate to him the most because he’s a big goof with a bigger heart. That has directly translated to Genie."
Dawson is extremely excited to return to Cleveland, and he's already got a list of places to bring the cast, including Mama Joyce’s, Melt and Barrio.
Dawson offers much inspiration to actors studying their craft in Cleveland. His advice to those harboring Broadway dreams is to never stop studying.
"You have to realize you are always a student, be it a student of life or literally in an acting class or in voice," He says. "And say 'yes.' You never know where that 'yes' will lead you. Trust that your journey is yours. You cannot fully focus on you and your craft if you’re worried about what your colleagues are doing."
is at Playhouse Square now through May 27 at the KeyBank Theatre as part of the KeyBank Broadway Series. Tickets are available by clicking here
Additionally, Dawson is performing in a one-night only showcase called "The Stories We Tell" at The BOP Stop at The Music Settlement. Tickets for the show are $15 and the proceeds go to benefit the Kyle Jean-Baptiste Foundation, Inc
. You can purchase tickets to the event by clicking here
The Kyle Jean-Baptiste Foundation honors the late Baldwin Wallace alumni and first African-American to ever perform the role of Jean Valjean in 'Les Miserables," Kyle Jean-Baptiste.