Join Youtheatre on a magic carpet ride
November 27, 2009
Next week, a group of young actors will bring the traditions of a faraway place to the Egyptian Theatre stage.
Youtheatre is staging its annual production, and this time, the group is drawing from "The Book of One Thousand and One Nights" and, more prominently, from the masterminds at Disney.
Youtheatre artistic director Jane Talley felt that a production of "Aladdin Jr." would be the perfect gift for the Park City community this season. The play is uplifting, colorful and entertaining, which is exactly what a lot of families need right now.
The performance will also showcase some of Park City’s youngest acting talent. The 26-member cast is made up entirely of local kids ages 9 to 15.
Those familiar with the Disney version of "Aladdin" might be curious about how an animated film translates to the stage.
According to Amber Hansen, who is directing the play, the adaptation features the same score and characters as the beloved film. The main difference, she said, is the ending. (Jafar transforming into a snake and then an all-powerful genie may have been too much of a stretch, even with special effects.)
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"I wanted to keep the feel of the play lighthearted, colorful and cartoony," Hansen said. "It still has that magical element."
It also still has the contagious, big-band style tunes that will stick in your head days after the show. Park City-based dance teacher Tanya Taylor has choreographed music and dance numbers to favorite songs including "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me," "Prince Ali," and a full cast rendition of "A Whole New World."
Along with most of the original storyline, the stage adaptation includes a few modern twists. Jasmine meets her potential suitors in a reality show format (think "Aladdin" meets "The Bachelor"), and her father, the Sultan of Agrabah, presses her to choose which she will "vote off the island."
Talley said she has been doing a lot of research to give the kids a feel for the time period and setting of the play. She has also scouted out a variety of oriental costumes and extravagant headwear for the cast members.
The production will utilize special effects that the Egyptian offers including lights, smoke, and an on-stage trap door.
At rehearsals on Monday night, the cast and directors were busy going over scenes and recapping pointers. "We’ve come a long way," said Ben Samuels, who plays Aladdin. "There’s always that crunch factor. It will pull together like it always does."
Samuels, who is 15 years old, played a lead role in the Egyptian’s production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and will act in the upcoming holiday show, "A Christmas Carol," as well.
"They’re very professional here," he said. "It really is a high-standard show."
As Aladdin, Samuels will be acting alongside 13-year-old Madi Christensen from Salt Lake City. Although Christensen has been acting for less than a year, she seems to be a natural on stage.
"The leads are very, very talented singers and actors," Talley said. "They’re just exceptional to work with."
The older members in the cast also help Talley manage their younger counterparts. Treasure Mountain International School students Matt Groy and Gracie Fojtik are helping out as stage manager and dance captain in addition to acting in the show.
The more novice actors look up to the older cast members for guidance and inspiration. "I sort of try to act as a role model in a small way," Samuels said.
Hana Gottlieb, a sixth-grader who plays the genie, said she is impressed with the younger cast members’ work ethic. "I really give them credit," she said. "They’ve been doing really well."
David Rigby-Ferris, 11, will be making his Egyptian Theatre debut as a guard and a baker in the market scene. He caught the acting bug last summer when he attended a theatre camp. "I’ve met a lot of people and just had so much fun," he said.
Ten-year-old Christian Labertew, who plays Jafar’s underappreciated talking parrot, Iago, agreed that the best part of Youtheatre is interacting with other kids with similar interests. "My favorite part is meeting all these new people and making a lot of new friends," he said.
The common bond is the euphoria that kids experience when they get on stage. Labertew says he can’t wait for the curtain to rise. "I love acting so it’s fun to just get up there and do it," he said.
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3-5. Show times are 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children. Group discounts are available. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Egyptian Theatre Box Office at (435) 649-9371 or visit http://www.parkcityshows.com.