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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A classy classroom Aladdin

Posted By on Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 5:19 PM

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We all know the drill when Disney does musicals. Ethnicities are cleansed, evil villains are outfitted with dimwitted sidekicks, and the pieties of political correctness are duly observed. So it shall be with Aladdin. The scamp skulking around the palace of Agrabbah is vaguely Arabian, but only if you factor in his costume. Jafar, the vizier who aspires to supplant the Sultan, has the quintessence of servile stupidity for a minion. And the jolly Sultan’s daughter bridles at the very thought of marrying the man her father chooses.

Ah, but Disney has always trumpeted itself as the champion of family entertainment, which is why it is so disheartening to see the current Children’s Theatre of Charlotte version at ImaginOn reducing the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman-Tim Rice musical to classroom size. There is plenty of heft to the eight-piece band led by Drina Keen, scenic designer Ryan Wineinger and costumer Jennifer K. Matthews have both worked with recession-proofed resourcefulness, and the one tech marvel by Andrew Gibbon – Aladdin’s magic carpet – is perfection.

Yet in his Charlotte directorial debut, Stephen Gundersheim seems to have been tasked with condensing Aladdin to a length that accommodates busloads of schoolkids during the week. Clocking in at exactly 58 minutes, the show has certainly cut enough of the music and Jim Luigs’s book to satisfy CMS herders, but families who assemble at McColl Family Theatre on weekends have the right to feel that Gundersheim’s success has come at the expense of their fuller enjoyment.

Toss in Olivia Edge’s tendency as our narrator to favor volume over clarity or expression, a choir of colorfully clad students who are more adorable than intelligible, and there’s even less to savor. Erik N. D’Esterre and Cassandra Howley Wood are more than wholesome enough – far more than wholesome enough – as Aladdin and his raison d’être, Princess Jasmine, so the abbreviated turpitude of Mark Sutton as Jafar and the buffoonery of Nicia Carla as his lackey are like water in a parched Sahara.

If there’s any genius at all in this Arabian Nights adaptation, it’s the Afro-tinged vulgarity of the genie. As soon as we hear Jalila A. Bowie brashly shaking off the effects of spending “10,000 years in a tin can,” we know there’s soulful stuff ahead – and Bowie delivers royally on all her vocals. The show’s more diminutive cutesiness, Caroline Farley as Abu and Sam Faulkner as a non-load-bearing Magic Carpet, also works nicely.

Yet in his Charlotte directorial debut, Stephen Gundersheim seems to have been tasked with condensing Aladdin to a length that accommodates busloads of schoolkids during the week. Clocking in at exactly 58 minutes, the show has certainly cut enough of the music and Jim Luigs’s book to satisfy CMS herders, but families who assemble at McColl Family Theatre on weekends have the right to feel that Gundersheim’s success has come at the expense of their fuller enjoyment.

Toss in Olivia Edge’s tendency as our narrator to favor volume over clarity or expression, a choir of colorfully clad students who are more adorable than intelligible, and there’s even less to savor. Erik N. D’Esterre and Cassandra Howley Wood are more than wholesome enough – far more than wholesome enough – as Aladdin and his raison d’être, Princess Jasmine, so the abbreviated turpitude of Mark Sutton as Jafar and the buffoonery of Nicia Carla as his lackey are like water in a parched Sahara.

If there’s any genius at all in this Arabian Nights adaptation, it’s the Afro-tinged vulgarity of the genie. As soon as we hear Jalila A. Bowie brashly shaking off the effects of spending “10,000 years in a tin can,” we know there’s soulful stuff ahead – and Bowie delivers royally on all her vocals. The show’s more diminutive cutesiness, Caroline Farley as Abu and Sam Faulkner as a non-load-bearing Magic Carpet, also works nicely.

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