‘Disney’s Aladdin Jr.’ is a magic carpet ride

By on February 10, 2016

 

Steppenwolf’s classic rock hit “Magic Carpet Ride” may be one of the most memorable and important songs in the history of music, let alone rock ‘n’ roll. It’s almost a rite of passage. The single, released in 1968, lasts a mere two minutes and 55 seconds (as compared to the album version, which is a bit longer, for the sake of full disclosure). Plugging hard earned money into a jukebox at the local pool hall as a teenager, I often filled the space with classic hits I knew from my album collection. As seminal as “Magic Carpet Ride” is in the growth of a music enthusiast, I always felt like I was getting ripped off using a quarter to play such a short song.

This is no comparison to the feeling I had Friday, Feb. 5, at the EPAC opening of “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” I got more than I ever expected!

Once again, a packed house kicked off the Kids4Kids production, which opens the new season of shows at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Don’t let the name Kids4Kids fool you … “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.,” and all of the previous Kids4Kids shows, are professionally run, and showcase the talents of the area’s most talented young thespians. This year marks a milestone, as the all-child shows turned five. Back again at the helm is director and choreographer Irving Gonzalez, who has manned all five Kids4Kids for shows. Once again he has outdone himself, raising the bar, and forcing the question –what will he do next year to top this?

Our scene opens in the Arabian city of Agrabah with an introduction of the full cast of 59 actors and actresses (with a few exceptions). The scene is set with beautiful tapestries and multi-colored lights, the backdrop of a nearby palace, and a sand-colored stage. Right away, the EPAC stage is filled with exuberance and joy as the crowd is treated to a four-part rendition of “Arabian Nights.” We meet the townspeople (ensemble); the harem girls; the palace guards and their captain, Razoul (Brett Devlin); the suitor princes; and the main characters of the story. Ruling this city is the Sultan (Ethan Reimel), a ruler stuck on tradition who is sometimes bamboozled by Jafar, his chief advisor. Jafar (Josh Battisti), plots to overthrow the Sultan who is preoccupied by finding a prince to marry his daughter, Jasmine (Carly Ludwig). Jasmine, does not like the idea of being forced to marry a man her father chooses; she dreams of freedom. We also meet Jafar’s right hand man, err, bird, Iago (puppeteered and voiced by Liam Roy).

One day, Jasmine leaves the sanctuary of the palace and during an excursion to the market runs into a poor boy named Aladdin (Bryce Eberly). Aladdin has gotten himself into hot water for stealing food, and the two star-crossed characters long to be in each other’s position –Aladdin basking in the comforts of the palace, and Jasmine longing for Aladdin’s freedom. Well, Aladdin is not free for long and is entombed in a cave by Razoul and the palace guards. Here, our young hero finds a magic carpet (Magdalena Lutz), who encourages –with the help of audience participation –Aladdin to rub a golden lamp. Enter the Genie (Domenic Palm), and so goes the rest of the story.

Saying, “enter the Genie,” is a bit of an understatement. During his first number, “Friend Like Me,” Palm has the crowd’s undivided attention. He owns the stage. His ability to hit every mark and nail every joke is something of high merit. Throughout the show Palm makes the Genie an integral part of the audience experience.

 

Domenic Palm plays Genie in “Aladdin Jr.” at Ephrata Performing Arts Center. “His ability to hit every mark and nail every joke is something of high merit,” says reviewer Michael Upton. (Photo by Vinny Tennis)

Domenic Palm plays Genie in “Aladdin Jr.” at Ephrata Performing Arts Center. “His ability to hit every mark and nail every joke is something of high merit,” says reviewer Michael Upton. (Photo by Vinny Tennis)

 

His is not the lone commanding performance. Ludwig and Eberly’s chemistry on stage as Jasmine and Aladdin makes the love story believable. The two actors move through the dialogue with ease, making their characters real and lovable.

Battisti brings all the exuberance and style as he had in last year’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.,” when he delighted audience members with a memorable performance as Chef Louis. His highlight comes during “Why Me,” when we learn of Jafar’s inner struggles with greed. Roy, as Iago, again presented his ability to play complicated and animated characters on stage. He was also last seen in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.,” when he played Flotsam, a sneaky and conniving eel. Both actors have an acute sense of knowing when it is their turn to shine.

“Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” is the loudest and most energy filled show I’ve ever seen at EPAC (a close second may have been “The Producers” in 2009). Filled with fantastic musical numbers, it is a joyous event, which should be shared with everyone.

Timing was great, props were incredible, and the costumes were beautiful. Spoiler alert! The best part comes at the end of the show, where EPAC regular Kristen Pontz choreographed an additional, original number. A Bollywood-esque dance number features the entire cast and had theatergoers literally standing and clapping. Set to a remix/mashup of bhangra music, not one person in the theater could hold back a smile and feel the amount of delight and pride these kids have as they circled, twirled, and danced.

Oh gosh, I forgot to mention the tap number in Act 1; it is super cute will be a favorite part for many. Usually, I wouldn’t take the space to mention all the players of any particular show, but I have to make an exception with “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” at EPAC. The entire cast and crew deserve huge accolades for putting on a show filled with so much energy, spirit, and passion. Playing the Harem Girls were Hayley Astheimer, Lauren Epps, Emma Graeff, Clara Laube, Annalise Prentiss, Josey Terry, Mandy Weaver, Chasity Whitley, and, last but not least, Olivia Brown. Brown also served as understudy to Jasmine. The rascally guards were Damian Hemsley, Ben Prentiss, Declan Scholl, and William Sensenig. The Princes who came to call for Jasmine’s hand were Brady Gettle, Tyson Harper, and John Laube. Too many too name, big and small, the ensemble added elements of hilarity, cuteness, and prolonged smiling. Hats off to everyone!

Tickets are still available for showings of “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” through Feb. 21 at ephrataperformingartscenter.com.

As a professional writer with an education in theater and creative writing, Michael C. Upton regularly previews and reviews film and live performance for the Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express; his daughter is also a member of the ensemble of “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.”`

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