When Jelani Alladin sings “Go the Distance” in the Central Park staging of Disney musical “Hercules,” the ballad isn’t only about a Greek god searching for purpose.
“I feel like ‘Hercules’ is actually my story,” Alladin, who plays the hero of the show that starts Saturday, tells The Post. “I’ve had to work hard for every single thing I’ve had in my life. I left home when I was 13 in search of greater [things], only to come back to New York City for college and to realize I was running away from my true identity. Everything I needed was already inside of me.”
Much of that creative spark comes from his Brooklyn childhood. Alladin, 27, grew up in Brownsville as the child of immigrants from Guyana. He had a knack for performing early on and, after spending his teen years at a Connecticut boarding school through the nonprofit A Better Chance program, eventually studied acting at NYU. Not long after graduation, he landed the role of Kristoff in “Frozen” on Broadway in 2017.
But as cute as his onstage pal Sven the Reindeer is, Kristoff ain’t Herc. When Alladin got a call from his manager telling him he’d been asked to play the titular part of the blond guy in the cartoon, the actor says he was “blindsided by the whole thing.”
“Are you sure?,” he asked his manager. “I was so confused.”
As Alladin later learned, director Lear deBessonet and book writer Kristoffer Diaz had decided early on to cast a black actor in the role to explore new sides of the lovable hero.
“I’m an African-American actor,” says Alladin, whose heritage is West Indian. “I bring a different life experience to these characters.”
The musical, which gets put up in a speedy 3 ½ weeks, has been physically demanding for Alladin. Hercules, after all, is a god.
“I’ve always been the skinny kid,” Alladin says of his fitness challenge. To go from zero to hero, he worked out 90 minutes a day for six days a week, took classes in tumbling and ate “everything in sight.”
“Although there are lyrics and lines about his body, it’s really not about his physical strength,” Alladin says. “Though I do want to give people something to look at.”
The fit actor isn’t the only thing audiences will be staring at — the Delacorte Theater stage will feature hundreds of other performers, too. “Hercules” is part of the Public Theater’s Public Works program, which brings together more than 200 New Yorkers from all five boroughs to sing in the show, alongside top-drawer Broadway talent like Alladin. One of the participating groups is the Brownsville Recreation Center.
“I am one of them. I came from the community,” the actor says of his many co-stars. “Not to quote the show, but I’ve finally found where I belong.”
“Hercules” plays Saturday through Sept. 8 at the Delacorte Theater; PublicTheater.org
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