When children rule the world at Laurel Mill Playhouse in the summer production of Disney’s “Aladdin JR.,” imagination transports audiences far from Main Street to the enchanted city of Agrabah near the Jordan River.
With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin and book by Chad Beguelin; the show — which is the culmination of the Playhouse’s 2018 Musical Theater Intensive for 8–18-year-olds that began rehearsing in June — is a shining rags-to-riches adventure replete with a genie and a magic carpet ride.
“Aladdin JR.” is based on the 1992 Academy award winning animated musical fantasy and the 2014 Broadway show currently playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City.
Produced and directed here by Maureen Rogers and Michael Hartsfield, respectively (with musical direction and accompaniment by pianist Mimi Kuhn McGinnis and choreography by Miranda Snyder and Brook Urquhart), Aladdin’s tale is abbreviated into a single act followed by a cabaret featuring popular showtunes choreographed by Rew Garner.
Hartsfield designed the tech; his set is a simple open stage framed by purple and cream wall flats sporting a hand-painted palatial landscape. The colorful Mideastern costumes by Marge McGugan (with assistance from Gina Tepper, Patty Seitz and Murray Hill Middle School) are free flowing and fun.
More than two dozen fresh-faced young thespians storm the stage to break the cute odometer and strut their emerging talent in an evening filled with song and dance.
Hartsfield’s exuberant cast includes: Anthony Alessandrini (as Genie), Tina Bell (Beggar 2), Josephine Coward (Spooky Voice), Maxwell Coward (Jafar), Audra Dew (Beggar 1), Isabella Dodro (Manal), Kiya English (Beggar 3), Michaela Farias (Shop Owner/Rajah), Moriah Franklin-McGruder (Guard 1), Ava Gallagher (Attendant 1), Rori Gallagher (Attendant 2), Lorraine Hamlett (Jasmine), Maggie Johnson (Attendant 1), Max Johnson (Attendant 2), Carly Levender (Isir), Ian Luk (Aladdin), Delaney McGinnis (Sultan), Jaci Molina (Rajah), Hope Moorman (Cave of Wonders Voice), Gabriella Patrick (Guard 2), Carly Pometto (Iago), Gavin Reardon (Omar), Samantha Roberts (Babkak), Tori Simmons (Apple Vendor), Yvonna Smack), Kayla Sterling (Prince Abdullah), Aeris Tepper (Fortune Teller, Isir), Jalen Thomas (Kassim), Kayla Tucker (Guard 2) and Allie Wickline (Guard 1/Prince Abdullah).
The journey begins as the lights rise on Genie (Alessandrini) and the ensemble performing “Overture/Arabian Nights.” Then Aladdin (Luk) steals a loaf of bread at the marketplace and he and his street rat pals Babkak (Roberts), Omar (Reardon), and Kassim (Thomas) run from the guards in “One Jump Ahead.”
At the palace, Princess Jasmine (Hamlett) rejects the hand of Prince Abdullah (Sterling); her doting father, the Sultan (McGinnis), declares she must marry (a future ruler) by the next moon. The Sultan’s villainous advisor, Jafar (Coward) and his sidekick Iago (Pometto) do an incantation and discover that Aladdin can lead them to a magic lamp with the power to make Jafar the Sultan.
Jasmine’s attendants urge her to explore the world outside in “These Palace Walls.” She slips off incognito to the marketplace and encounters Aladdin and his friends performing for the crowd in hopes of earning money (“Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim”).
Aladdin spies Jasmine, boy meets girl and the love story with a moral theme — strength and true wealth come from within — is on. When Aladdin finds the magic lamp in the Cave of Wonders, Genie offers to grant him three wishes with only three rules: he cannot kill anyone, he cannot bring anyone back from the dead, nor can he make anyone fall in love.
McGinnis’s keen musical direction and the cast’s clear vocals — “A Whole New World” performed by Luk, Hamlett and the Ensemble is particularly dulcet — along with Snyder and Urquhart’s mostly crisp choreography (considering the cast members’ ages) serve the production well.
The sparkling eyes and wondrous excitement of the smaller children may take center stage for some friends and families in the audience; elementary schooler McGinnis is adorable in her mustache and beard. And Johnson and Reardon, among others, are simply too cute for words.
But middle schoolers Coward and Pometto make delicious villains. And high schoolers Luk, Thomas, Hamlett and Alessandrini (who just graduated) are poised and delightfully savvy onstage.
The entire ensemble of “Aladdin JR.” performs beautifully in their role(s) in Act 1 and as themselves in the Cabaret. Kudos to all for working so hard to deliver fine performances (and for handling scene changes so professionally) while having so much fun!
“Aladdin, Jr.” continues through Sunday, Aug. 19, Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.; and matinee performances Aug. 18 and 19 at 2 p.m. General admission is $22; students 12 and under and seniors 65 and over, $17. Go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.
Reach John Scheinman at firstname.lastname@example.org