Theatre Magic: “Aladdin” Flies into Boyle Heights

It was no surprise when Disney rolled out a blockbuster stage version of its 1992 hit film, Aladdin, for Broadway and national tours.  And it’s no surprise it’s been running for over six years .

But it’s a real surprise when Casa 0101, a spunky company in Boyle Heights, decides to put that big show in their 99-seat black box.

Even more surprising is the version they use — which was developed by Disney with LA playwright José Cruz González. It’s trimmed it to fit a 90-minute playing time, and stays closer the film. The result is, frankly, more focused and dynamic than the Broadway show.

Rosa Navarrete, Sarah Kennedy, Daniel Martinez, Sebastian Gonzalez (photo: Luis Gaudi)

But most important, this Aladdin is bilingual.  It’s not just performed in two languages — the revised plot hinges on an evil curse that has given the people of Agrabah two languages (Spanish and English), but has left them unable to understand each other.

Thus, the Sultan must employ three facile translators.  Animals (Aladdin’s monkey friend Abu, and the wicked vizier’s parrot Iago) also move between languages.  But Agrabah’s royals and nobles speak only Spanish, while the common folk only know English.

This makes the love story doubly star-crossed: Aladdin the street urchin and Princess Jazmin not only come from different worlds, they can barely understand each other.  But of course, love conquers all — with the help of a magic carpet and a powerful genie.  And when the curse is lifted, Agrabah’s folks chatter together happily.

Casa 0101’s production is ambitious — but with invention and style, they fit the huge spectacle into  their tiny space. Scenic designer Cesar Holguin and lighting designer Sohail e. Najafi are as inventive as if they were at the Pantages, and their effects (with one exception) are magical.  Choreographer Tania Possick and music director Caroline Benzon whirl the skillful dozen-member chorus through their numbers, while costumers Abel Alvarado and Jules Bronola pull incredibly swift costume changes.

Of course, when Genie bursts out of the lamp, he takes over the show — that’s how it’s written.  And Finley Polynice makes it happen, with power and skill and overflowing good humor.  The story’s other driver is the evil vizier, Jafar; Luis Marquez exudes charm along with his nefarious egotism, making us almost root for him.  Holding together the world they inhabit is the Sultan, played gently yet firmly by Henry  Madrid.

Daniel Martinez and Sarah Kennedy give the lovers the right amount of youthful innocence, while Sebastian Gonzalez (as Abu) and Jason David (as Iago, a delightful puppet made by Tony Velis) dispense bits of snarky wisdom.  Danielle Espinoza boldly embodies a flighty, flirty Magic Carpet, and Rosa Navarrete’s Rajah the tiger seethes with a sultry knowing.  As the Royal Translators, Diana Castrillon, Bianca Espinoza and Shanara Sanders carry the story with clarity and dazzle with their song-and-dance work.

You might not expect it, but this Aladdin is really an ensemble show.  And that’s high praise to director Rigo Tejeda and all the actors. From lead to chorus member, everyone has made character choices and works them throughout the play.  That produces a lovely, lively energy that never flags.

Because it’s such an appealing show for families, this Aladdin should enjoy a long run.  And every time it plays, Casa 0101 fulfills another part of its mission the the community.
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Disney”s Aladdin (Dual Language Edition), book by Jim Luigs and José Cruz Gonzáles, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (translated by Walterio Pesqueira); choreographed by Tania Possick and directed by Rigo Tejeda.
Presented by Casa 0101 and TNH Productions, in association with LA City Councilmember Gil Cedillo; at the Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. First St., LA 90033.

Fridays at 8:00,
Saturdays at 2:00, 5:00, and 8:00,
Sundays at 1:00, 4:00. and 7:00,
through Feb. 19.

Tickets: <www.casa0101.org> or (323) 263-7684.