Aladdin Jr – Wyong Muscial Theatre pulses with community spirit. (Theatre Review)
Wyong Musical Theatre Company
Friday 5 July – Sunday 21 July. You can grab your tickets here.
Aladdin as a musical construct devised by Disney appears at first glance to be a natural vehicle for the transmutation of traditional white values delivered package-perfect by globalisation. However, the perfect solution to the complex problems associated with globalization find themselves blossoming in community theatre, and while Aladdin may scream ‘white appropriation’ in a film starring Will Smith, it can’t help but transmogrify when performed by a group of talented young people on the Central Coast. Several very clever steps taken by director Amanda Daniel assist in the transformation of Aladdin that forge a dynamic response to globalization rather than exhibit tractability. American accents in the young cast force a reminder that we are witnessing a white American production – not one that can be associated with any kind of middle eastern aesthetic. (Thanks to vocal coach Sally Sturgess) Equally a preference by talented costume designer Margaret Holdom for a dress-up aesthetic and a flare for glitz by stylist Danial Martin draw us toward a TV inspired Ru Paul glamour, tapping into the fun usually associated with Halloween. While theater can act as an educator and medium for social change through a direct message (and this is a fashionable practice in independent theater in our major cities) community theatre is unique in its development of local culture for communities. Aladdin therefore, develops capacities and values of the young people in the Central Coast community and thus preserves the culture developed ‘behind’ the show. While Aladdin may be an obvious choice for Wyong Musical Society because The Film draws a paying crowd (not to mention the fabulous instagrammable photo ops after the show) the ongoing local cultural development, discipline, and all out hard work forge a counter narrative to the image of white-ness and the problems of appropriation.
In this particular production of Aladdin, it all starts with the ensemble who form a stronger base than one usually encounters in community theatre. These very talented young people are a mish mash of the experienced standing shoulder to shoulder with initiates, and carry an air of unification and joyful connectivity that makes complicated background movement form a seamless backdrop upon which Amanda Daniel can paint a very vivid picture. Talented youngsters like Zac Cunynghame, Lyra Soanes, Ebony Atmore, Ella Blackmore and feature dancers Matilda Kenny, Summer Kenny, Rochelle Hesse, Ethan Wallace and Ryan Wallace give the production a maturity and polish that serves the leads and designers well.
With a backdrop this strong, emerging and early starters in lead roles have the opportunity to shine with great finesse. Stand outs include the leads of Caitlin Stevens as Jasmine, Sean Logan as Aladdin and Jamie Sturgess as Genie. Caitlin Stevens in particular looked comfortable and relaxed in her role on opening night. The little ensemble comic band of players around Aladdin, the cute Anneka Holland as Kassim, a very funny Connor Logan as Babkak and the charming Tom Sutherland as Omar riff of the ensembles strength to forge their own cohesion and give a convincing portrayal of a close-knit group.
Aladdin is nothing without its super-villains and Harrison Sturgess as Jafar and Hartley Cox as Iago form their own unit that repudiates the Maleficent style villainy of the famous cartoon film. These were far more enjoyable ‘baddies’ for their humanity. In this production Harrison Sturgess forges a connection with the audience that excites a charming conflict around his characters motives. A villain that calls forth something in ourselves is loads more fun, making these two performances another of the significant highlights of this already stellar production.
The girl-gang of Jasmin’s besties played by Stephanie Hanlon, Aliza Devries and Georgia Martin are glamorous, pretty and consolidated group of devoted handmaidens (friends) and the satellite roles of Isaac Nakhoul as the Sulatan, Dylan Vermuyten as Razoul and Ryan Wallace as Prince Abdullah solidify and properly evoke their roles in the narrative. Ensemble members Addison Goldie, Madelyn Smith, Eden Ormsby, Imogen Morley, Bree Bailey, Zoe Terry, Jennifer Grant, Charlotte Page, Chloe Mansfield, Elodie Tipton-Akers and Ashley Powell form the aforementioned solid backdrop upon which the success of the entire production hangs.
This production of Aladdin Jr is beautifully and carefully wrought by the excellent production team at Wyong Musical Theatre Company and adds a strong accomplishment to the list for director Amanda Daniel, who ran a long a detailed rehearsal schedule that produced such great results. In the gorgeous surrounds of the re-vamped old school, the musical shines with the so many unnamed hours of dedication and verve that signify the passion of community theatre. In this way Aladdin Jr from Wyong Musical Theatre Company achieves a community cohesiveness and joi de vivre that no professional production in Australia, no matter how polished, can hope to emulate.
 It’s tricky to know what to do with Aladdin. Packed with so many fabulous songs, and currently repurposed with an (almost) skin tone accurate cast in film, one can’t help but feel for those making a powerhouse effort at an attempt to right the racist wrongs that haunt the musical so. It’s a bit like Roald Dahls (originally black) Oompa Loompa’s brought in from Africa to work hard for a white capitalist master who pays them in cocoa beans, when he had to lay off all his workers for complaining about their conditions. Roald Dahls has apologized every way for his faux pas, but you can’t help what you said when you weren’t woke.