The classic Disney musical comes to life on the stage, with a few new twists
Michael McCormic Jr.
VANCOUVER — It’s a story that has captured the imagination of children and adults alike since it first hit the screen in 1992. Now, audiences will have the chance to see a live production of Aladdin Jr. right here in Vancouver, thanks to Christian Youth Theater Portland-Vancouver.
The all new Aladdin Jr. script, which was recently updated from a version inspired by the 1992 film into a version based on the Broadway musical Aladdin, features new songs, new characters, and the classic tale of a street rat, a magical Genie, and a princess who longs to make decisions for herself. CYT’s production of Aladdin Jr. will be the first theater production in the Clark County area to use the updated script, which was released in January by Musical Theater International, the company that handles the licensing arrangements for most Disney theatrical productions.
“We’re going after the Broadway version, which features some extra songs different than the Disney version,” explains Lindsey Burgener, the actress who plays the part of Princess Jasmine in the show.
Production on this musical performance began eight weeks ago in April, when 25 students, ages 8 to 18, from around the Portland-Vancouver area auditioned and were cast in the show. Jay Tatco-Nowak, the show’s musical director, says that the fast-paced production timeline has been a rewarding challenge for the cast and crew.
“We have rehearsals Fridays from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and eight weeks of two-day-per-week rehearsals, so we really have to cram everything into a short amount of time,” Tatco-Nowac explains.
While it may seem that all this work could be overwhelming for the cast, the directors claim that the children and teens in the show take the challenge in stride. Myronie McKee, the show’s lead director, says she has not only enjoyed watching the students develop this show, but also develop their moral character through their involvement in the show.
“The kids are wonderful,” says McKee, who notes that, more important than the performing arts skills the students develop is the growth they experience as a person. “Our motto at CYT is ‘Developing character one stage at a time.”
For Benedict Alexander, whose skin is painted blue for his role as the Genie, it has been a blast from the moment production began.
“It’s really fun, it’s actually really amazing being this character,” Alexander says. “There’s such freedom of expression there; I can dance the way I want, say the lines. I really get to bring myself out. It’s a character that’s been set already, and yet there’s still so much more to interpret, so much more to bring out, so much more to describe. It makes it amazing.”
Jonathan Billington, who plays the titular character of Aladdin, and recently finished a production of Beauty and the Beast, in which he played the beast, has a similar view of the show. He says, “It’s fantastic. I love my family here and all of the people I get to work with. It’s also nice to play a character who is good all the way through the show, isn’t evil, or evil at one point.”
Aladdin Jr. opens this weekend, and the cast and crew have high hopes for the audiences who come to watch, and even higher hopes that the audiences will walk away with something valuable from the show.
“It’s heartwarming, magical, and fun,” explains McKee. “It’s about what you believe about yourself, and really, truly understanding that you are enough just as you are to be loved by others and especially by God.”
Melanie Neal, the assistant director and stage manager for the production, says that she sees some parallels between the way Aladdin pretends to be somebody he is not and the use of social media in the modern age.
“Society today is about ‘the facade,’ and everything that you put forward; your Instagram self, your facebook self,” Neal claims. “But God really sees straight into our heart for who we are, and that’s the same thing we want to show those around us.”
As Aladdin himself, Jonathan Billington explains, “Aladdin Jr. Is all about expectations. Expectations that people put on you, and expectations that you put on yourself. Aladdin expects people to look down on him, which they do. But the people that actually matter to him don’t look down on him for who he is, but look at him as he his. They want to be a part of his life because of that. And when he tries to bring himself up in a level of status, he brings himself down in a level of character. So, I really want people to remember as they leave that the important people love you for who you are.”
Tickets for Aladdin Jr. are available online for $15 at www.cytportlandvancouver.org or at the door for $18. The show runs from June 1-9 at the Firmly Planted Homeschool Resource Center in Vancouver.