‘The Magical Lamp of Aladdin’ at Encore Stage and Studio by Julia L. Exline


Children’s Theatre Encore Stage and Studio presents The Magical Lamp of Aladdin, a lively production directed by Chuck Leonard. By engaging children and adolescents in every facet of their productions (not only as the primary audience, but in both backstage and onstage aspects as well), Encore Stage and Studio’s goal is to actively foster and encourage new generations of theater lovers– and they seem to be doing a fantastic job.

Set Designer Michael C. Null keeps it pretty simple – most of the action takes place in front of a curtain backdrop. A merchant’s stall is used for the city setting, and gilded curtains frame a hefty heap of cushions for a palace scene. Null is also the lighting designer for this production, and keeps the stage well-lit. Artistic and technical director Susan Alison Keady uses sound cues such as construction noise, as well as gongs and other percussion instruments to announce a characters presence or sudden tension shift. However, the best feature of this production has to be the costumes and make-up designs, created by Debra Leonard. An evil magician and his sister sweep the stage in glittery black robes, with a ring sparkling from every finger. Patched, frayed beggar’s clothing lends way into boldly colored sashes, shawls, and scarves. Beaded dresses and printed tunics of every color, as well as daring make-up and hairstyles, make up a well-dressed cast.

Speaking of the extensive cast, it ranges in children of seemingly all ages, without a single adult in sight. Directing a stage-full of children and young adults cannot be such an easy feat, and Leonard successfully pulls together a good show from his talented team of youths. Aladdin, played by a highly energetic Andrew Ruhnke, is a simple but determined young boy that charms his way into the lives of the people around him (though somewhat begrudgingly…he manages to even make friends with merchants that he has stolen from!) With his playful monkey Alakazam (Eva Gary -who is a clear crowd favorite) by his side, his lighthearted nature makes it hard not to like him, and royalty is no exception, as Princess Jasmine (a sweetly delicate Abby Huston) falls in love with him in an instant. However, Aladdin must please his way into Jasmine’s parent’s hearts and their approval (Thomas Kelty as the somewhat timid Sultan, and Honora Logsdon as his greedy, bossy Queen Sultana) through way of their pockets. How can Aladdin win his love when he has nothing to offer but love itself.

Andrew Ruhnke (Aladdin) and Abby Huston (Princess Jasmine). Photo by Larry McClemons.

His chance comes when a wicked magician named Jammal (Hugh Vasquez) disguises himself as a long-lost uncle and strikes up a deal for Aladdin to consider. Jammal desires a magical lamp that only Aladdin can fetch, and together they embark on a dangerous adventure, full of dragons, carpet-rides, and genies. Though Aladdin is clever enough to sense that Jammal is up to no good, he is also eager to obtain wealth. Can Aladdin out-trick a powerful magician, as well as overcome other risky obstacles? Will he find his way out of Jammal’s clutches and back to his true love and family?

What is most refreshing about this production is that it is full of enthusiastic youths that are clearly having a wonderful time. Particularly talented performances came from the hilarious Meghan Mack as Chop-Chop, the royal executioner, and the huffy disdain of Honora Logsdon’s Queen Sultana. While these children are only beginning to hone their craft, and the acting can be rough-around-the-edges, it is encouraging for other children to see their peers onstage. The effect is an inspiring one, and if your children are interested in theater, I especially recommend that they take in this production and see that they too, can be a star.

Running time is 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Feature Logo by Laury Sendek.

The Magical Lamp of Aladdin runs through March 18, 2012 at Encore Stage and Studio at Kenmore Middle School – 200 S. Carlin Springs Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154, or order them online.

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