“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” says Aladdin in one of three stories told by Scheherazade to her Persian King husband, in order for her to save her life. Spinning tales of troublemakers and thieves, honor and courage, and magic and love, Arabian Nights is a family-friendly show for all ages in current production at Creative Cauldron Learning Theater. Presented in three acts, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Little Hunchback, and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp is a collaborative project with Ellen Selby, Shannon Lynch, and Laura Connors Hull as lead directors, respectively.
An all-inclusive program for all registered participants, the opening number, A Thousand and One Nights, is presented by the ensemble cast that probably ranges in age from 5 – 50 +. It is an informative yet soft number introducing the lead characters, King Shrayrar (Mark Arnoldi), Scheherazade (Laura Trice), Dinazade (Amelia Magee), and Vizier (Gus Napp).
Trice and Magee play sisters – Scheherazade and Dinazade and while they are sweet in character they are also crafty. It is apparent that Dinazade has great respect and love for her older sister. Arnoldi plays the King as a bitter man who had been betrayed by his wife. He delivers his lines with an edge and his words are terse reminiscent of Yul Brynner in The King and I. Napp as Vizier is the voice of reason offering not only a soft tone but mannerisms that emphasize his logic.
Though the set is simple by Scenic Designer Margie Jervis, comprised of a series of platforms painted a lovely sunset orange with dark blue accents, it is also clever. With the use of a wide Ogee arch (Persian architecture) and a scrim (curtain), Scheherazade begins to tell a story to the King and then the ensemble acts out the story and the scrim fades to black.
The story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” is the story of two brothers – Ali Baba (Laura Duffet) and his elder brother Cassim (Max Vagoun). Sons of a merchant, the two marry after their father dies. Greedy Cassim marries a wealthy and not-so-nice woman (Merone Mesfin) whereas Ali Baba’s wife (Kristen Hornbuckle) is poor but kind. Cassim takes over their father’s business while Ali Baba settles into the trade of woodcutter. It is not quite forty thieves but the full ensemble cast is fun and full of trickery but the stand-out performance goes to Mesfin. Her character is impolite and suspicious of her brother-in-law and acts it out with assertive gestures.
Caden Mitchell is The Little Hunchback, and definitely a ‘Scene Stealer’. In the beginning, he is taken in by the tailor and his wife. They have a wonderful dinner together but unfortunately the little hunchback swallows a fish bone. From there, he is taken to the doctors, then to the doctor’s Muslin neighbor, and then there is an encounter with a drunken Christian merchant. What transpires is the honor and the courage of those that thought they had killed the little hunchback. Mitchell plays dead very well as he is moved from door-to-door to various locations on the stage and put into some awkward positions.
Magic and love define the third act, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. Aladdin (Colter Adams) and his mother (Hazel Feldstein) work well together as she helps her son to ask for Princess Balbradour’s (Maya Wrona) hand in marriage. Wrona is beautiful as the demure little princess.
But before Aladdin can have true happiness he has to face his laziness and work through an unexpected deception. Max Belmar as the Evil Magician is quite the talent. He manages to be mischievous and yet adorable. Even though they are opposites in character, Adams and Belmar have good stage chemistry.
The Genie of the Ring (Nicole Hornbuckle) and the Genie of the Lamp (Shannon Rogers) added the mystical level to this act along with lighting techniques by John Sami that are minimal yet unique. A rotating egg-shaped light sparkled with red, blue and green lights when Aladdin rubbed his magic lamp. Sami was also the sound effects designer which took the audience to places that the set could not. As Ali Baba commanded the cave door to “open sesame,” it created the sound of a boulder rock moving over hard ground and the effect worked perfectly each time.
Margie Jervis was also the costume designer. Most of the ensemble cast wore tunics and wide-legged pants with scarf sashes, turban head coverings and sandals. Some of the female cast members wore silk scarves over their hair and gold embroidered skirts of bright red. Scheherazade was dressed in layers of blue chiffon and lace as was her sister Dinazade, minus the head covering. King Shrayrar was dressed in a long gold tailored coat whereas one of Vizier’s coats is wide stripes and the other is lavish maroon and accented with gold. His turban carries the same shape as the Ogee arch.
Arabian Nights is full of imagination and a host of talented young performers that is both nurtured and encouraged by Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theater. Each story will take you on an adventure that is not only like a magic carpet ride but offers some charming moral lessons about good vs. bad, truth vs. deception, and that love conquers all.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.