Students, family members and the public were treated to a charming rendition of Disney’s “Aladdin, Kids” on March 21 and 22 at Chocachatti Elementary School. The production was funded in part by The Hernando County Fine Arts Council and was a collaborative effort of teachers, parents and students.
The first evening’s performance played to a packed house in front of an enthusiastic audience. During the introduction of the show, they were reminded to not shout out a child’s name or clap when he or she came on stage because it could throw the actors off. It was important that the actors “keep calm and stay in character.”
According to one of the producers/directors, Ms. Rhonda Bowers, the cast had an incredibly short period of time to prepare for the show.
“We began rehearsals in November and we met three hours a week. There is never enough time to rehearse and our goal is to maintain a high level of expectations in the quality of work that we do as a performing arts school.”
To make it even more challenging, Ms. Bowers and the other directors, Irmarie Kraft and Nancy Kraus, worked with two separate main casts. The leading parts were played by different students. There was a Cast A and a Cast B. This gave more students the opportunity to be part of the production. Many of the supporting cast, such as dancers, acted in both casts. Some students had leading roles in one cast and supporting roles in the other, for example fifth grader Cody Blehm.
“I played a beggar in Cast A and Aladdin in Cast B. I don’t have any lines in Cast A, but sometimes I can ad lib. I can react with the main actors by shaking their hands. The best part of having two roles is that I get to act differently for each role,” Cody stated.
Nadia Rios, along with another actor, played Avis, the Magic Carpet, in both casts.
Nadia explained, “Being in two casts is kind of stressful because if you’re not there [for rehearsal] you’re missing a whole bunch of stuff because they change things every day and then the next day when you do what you thought you were supposed to do, they go ‘no you’ve got to do it this way.’ You have to be at two rehearsals.”
When a production company is working on a limited budget, creativity, imagination and innovation are important. For example, the Magic Carpet consisted of a platform on wheels, pushed by several children with two actors sitting on the platform. Parents and other family members pitched in to build sets. Rose Longsworth and Ana Rodriguez created the colorful costumes.
Besides performing at the school for the students during the day and family members in the evening, the casts took the show on the road, performing at Salishan, a local Senior living facility and for the children at the Headstart program in Brooksville.
It was primarily fifth graders, ten and eleven year old students, that made up the cast and crew. Many of the actors were veterans, having been in several school plays before.
Brendan Shannon, who plays Aladdin in Cast A has performed in two other shows.
“I’ve been in the performing arts all my life, since before first grade. The most challenging part of playing the lead wasn’t memorizing the lines; it was a particular jump in the dancing. That was hard to learn,” Brendan commented.
Jaida Grier, who performed the role of the Genie in Cast B has been acting since kindergarten.
“My favorite part is performing in front of the younger kids because they believe it so much and they’re laughing at almost everything. They’re not as judgmental as an older audience,” Jaida remarked.
Although the entire cast gave a polished performance, several minor characters “stole the show.” Not only were their lines hilarious, but they performed them with comedic expression.
Grace Appleton, in her premier performance, played Iago, the comic parrot sidekick of Jafar, the villain. Her squeaky voice and cute one-liners elicited laughter from the audience.
“The funniest part about playing the sidekick was he makes it about him. It’s fun to do,” Grace stated.
The Genie in Cast A, played by Calia Brown, uttered wisecracks such as: “Do these pants make me look fat?” Or when Aladdin asks her if she can make him a Prince, she responds: “I can make you a Prince; I can make you a ham sandwich…”
Not only were the students enthusiastic about the show, but so were the adults.
“When you, as the director, see what you created and you can see the passion and commitment coming from the students, the ones whose heart is in it, that is all the reward you need as a director,” stated Ms. Bowers.
“As one of the Musical Theater directors, it’s amazing to see how the performing arts inspires and transforms our students. When our students are part of a production our goal is to help them reveal and refine a talent they may not have realized existed,” added Drama Teacher, Irmarie Kraft.
For the finale, the entire cast sang “A Whole New World,” expressing one of the story’s themes of the younger generation creating a better world to live in. It was staged creatively with actors portraying various countries, such as the Statue of Liberty for the United States, an actor in a beret portraying France and a pizza chef representing Italy.
The entire casts, as well as the parents and teachers, can be justly proud of this year’s production of “Aladdin, Kids” and the community can look forward to next year’s show – whatever is in store.