I walked into the Gaithersburg Arts Barn for Aladdin JR as I often do when I review a play. I picked up my two tickets, went to my seat, and started to flip through my program. However, this time, I brought a guest with a slightly different perspective. My plus one for this particular production was my four-year-old sister, and viewing the musical through her eyes offered an entirely new experience.
Directed by Fred Zirm, with music by Alan Menken and the book adaptation by Jim Luigs, Aladdin JR follows the famous story of Aladdin (Hana O’Looney), the boy from the streets, who finds a magical Genie (Valerie Hubert) that grants him three wishes. Aladdin wishes to become a prince in order to woo Princess Jasmine (Madelyn Fox). However, Aladdin is not the only one who wants to marry Jasmine, and together, they must overcome the obstacle of the evil Jafar (Ava Lunenfeld).
Luig’s adaptation simplified the story to the key elements, which helped carry young audience members from point to point. My sister was engaged for the entirety of the performance, and literally sitting on the edge of her seat, eager to see each new event unfold.
I was also impressed to find that the creative team embraced Luig’s simpler script, and utilized other elements to help carry a younger audience through the story, including the set. Constructed by Doe B. Kim, the set was simple, and consisted mostly of blocks that the narrators moved about the stage to signify different locations such as the castle or the magical cave in which Aladdin found the genie’s lamp. The blocks were outfitted with vibrant colored fabric, which complimented Sandy Eggleston’s strikingly bright costumes.
The set also included a projector screen in the back, which transformed into a starry night for “A Whole New World.” The song takes place during a magic carpet ride between Aladdin and Jasmine, and Zrim cleverly used the set blocks to his advantage. Two young actors (Akansha Dave and Zoe Fischthal) controlled the carpet through four poles, and after placing the carpet on top of the blocks, they were able to move about, constructing the illusion that Aladdin and Jasmine were flying. The blocks with the carpet were placed in front of the starry night image, thus creating a romantic scene between the couple. My sister’s jaw dropped to the floor as she took in the scene, and I do not blame her.
The ensemble as a whole provided wonderful performances, especially in the group number “Friend Like Me.” The number acts as the big moment when the Genie meets Aladdin, and describes how great the three wishes can be. Valerie Hubert as the Genie showcased a beautiful belting voice and skilled comedic timing as she led the ensemble through a musical piece filled with fun choreography and gymnastics. The number was a blast to watch, and the pure joy on the faces of the actors pushed it over the top.
Individual actors also played their part in making the performance so memorable. Erin Judge as the Beggar showcased an extraordinary stage presence that constantly caught my attention whenever she took the stage. A particularly strong moment was when the Sultan (Brian Moore) was introducing a number of potential bachelor princes for his daughter Jasmine to marry, and Judge humorously played the part of the adoring fan girl who simply wanted a prince to choose her.
Ella Kotok was absolutely hilarious as Iago, and played the under-appreciated sidekick to Jafar beautifully. Even though Iago played an instrumental part in Jafar’s evil schemes, I found myself feeling sympathy for Kotok’s almost lovable character.
O’Looney and Fox as Aladdin and Jasmine portrayed a cute couple that I wanted to see succeed. Their voices were impressive on their own, particularly Fox’s rendition of “One Jump Ahead (reprise),” but they also created a lovely blend in “A Whole New World.”
Cute and fun, Aladdin JR is perfect for the entire family. The young children surrounding me were mesmerized from start to finish, and I even found myself laughing at the comedic script. I know I look forward to bringing my younger sister to future productions of Kensington Arts Theatre Second Stage.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.