Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Disney Aladdin Dual Language Edition –Book by Jim Luigs and Jose Cruz Gonzalez, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice


By Joe Straw

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy.
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. – Iago – Shakespeare’s Othello

This is possibly a perfect fit for this venue (Casa 0101) but moving it to a larger house will require additional work, especially where the actors are concerned. – Narrator on Aladdin January 22, 2017

Walking to the stages of the Los Angeles Theatre Center is always a treat. It’s a pleasure to see actors, chat with them, and find out how their careers are going – not to mention catching a glimpse of what is going on in the other theatres.  LATC, home of the Latino Theatre Company, is a thriving and bustling place.

One ventured out on this night to LATC to see what changes had been made to Aladdin, specifically the production seen at Casa 0101 back in January (see write up on Aladdin on this blog) and how this show had made the transition from a 99-seat theatre to a theatre that seats approximately three hundred patrons.  

I noticed the “kids” got tap shoes and that made a wonderful difference. Also, the crowd scene in the marketplace was remarkably better in their social interactions.

One expects that moving up in increments of three, there would be that same increments in actors, sets, and the costumes.  But, with a few exceptions, the costumes and set appeared similar in the original production.  They got rid of the puppet bird, and now Iago (Luis Fernandez-Gil) had his face painted in character, bird like fashion, and on rolling shoes. (More on this later.)   

This is a show for kids, not really for adults, so load them up in vans and bring them on down.  They will have a wonderful time.

Let’s talk about what works well and give credit where credit is due.  Councilmember Gil Cedillo and TNH Productions along with El Centro Del Pueblo and CASA 0101 Theater gives Latino actors the opportunity to work at their craft, creating characters, and filling roles.  This is a consortium of like-minded individuals providing opportunity where little existed before.  Acting classes aside, one doesn’t learn the craft without experience in front of a live audience. All of that is good for growth and should be praised.

An examination of Aladdin by Jim Luigs and Jose Cruz Gonzales, one finds the book is clearly told from the perspective of Jafar (Omar Mata) whether it is intended or not.  This dual language show could easily be called Jafar. 

Jafar is the character that sets the rules and pulls the strings for which the other characters must work around in order to get what they want. For example, the Princess has to overcome Jafar’s language barrier to get the love of her life, Aladdin. The same holds true for Aladdin.  The Sultán (Henry Madrid) cowers under Jafar’s rules and everyone must work around Jafar’s lifestyle.

As the story goes, Jafar and Iago, his pesky bird, had previously found the lamp, made one wish, and that wish was to have the royals speak another language so that they could not communicate to the peasantries, keep the peasants uneducated and hungry. 

Then, somehow, Jafar loses the lamp.

In the meantime, the Sultán wants to marry off his petulant daughter, Jazmin (Valeria Maldonado) to a host of princes, all wonderfully played by Andrew Cano, Jesse Maldonado, and Alejandro Lechuga.  Lechuga is actually dressed like the artist known as Prince, complete with a Purple Rain jacket.     

But Jafar has other ideas about the princess, the lamp, the kingdom, and the world!     

Don’t read any further if you want to go because I’m going to speak about the craft. I write with no animosity. Theatre is a craft, a connection between audience and thespian.  And ideally, when the craft is working, both benefit from that connection.

Rigo Tejeda, director, might focus more on story, more on the dreams of the characters, and providing meaningful direction as to the plight of Aladdin.  Aladdin appears to be a secondary character in a show that has his name as the title. More needs to be made of Aladdin’s poverty and his ingenuity.

The cave scene didn’t work in the previous production and doesn’t work now.  The situation is not dangerous enough for all of the characters and requires a major reworking leading to the escape with Abu’s help.  

Iago is a major antagonist but flutters about the stage in an unfocused manner, without an objective, and without specific character traits to guide him.

Also, Tejeda must find a way to make the relationship between Jazmin and Aladdin work. The stakes now are too low and the bar is set even lower. Jazmin must fall deeply in love, must be deeply miserable at losing him, and then must be terrifically excited at finding him again.

The Sultán and Jafar’s relationship must work as well. Jafar works for the Sultán and must appear as an underling while scheming to get what he wants.

Also, there must be more to the relationship between Jazmin and the Sultán, as father and daughter, and a relationship that moves the story along.   

In a show, such as this, each main character needs a grand introduction and Tejeda must be the eyes for those characters to make that happen. As one example, the Magic Carpet (Danielle Espinoza) suddenly appears out of nowhere to play a significant part of the story but really has no purpose in this telling.  

The beautiful Royal Translators, Blanca Espinoza, Beatriz Tasha Magaña, and Shanara Sanders must work in another way.  For example, they must work in a way that gathers the information as a service, one supposes from the king, and then translates the messages to the peasantry (us).  They must be unique in their own right and convincingly convey the message in their own unique manner.  

The dance number that highlights the travel, first class by the way, out of the cave is wonderfully Choreographed by Tania Possick but mysteriously discards the Genie, Aladdin, Abu, and Magic Carpet as their guests traveling out of the cave.

The sound by Vincent A. Sanchez is spotty at best. Each person is miked up to be heard over the music. Iago, with Gilbert Gottfried like voice, was screeching and overpowering. Iago works best with a strong character and a clear objective. (All future actors should drop the Gottfried voice.)  Jazmin’s mic was coming in and out all night. Jafar, who has the best voice, was so low at times that it did not highlight his magnificent voice. Levels on the lead singers blended into the ensemble and for about half of the show one couldn’t understand the words of the musical lyrics.

If this is a show that only wants to work for kids, that’s fine.  But, if it is a show that wants to work for everyone, then it would also work for the kids as well.

Daniel Sugimoto has beautiful clarity in his speaking voice and his singing voice and is fine as Aladdin.  But, this Aladdin doesn’t act upon the conflict presented in this show; also he does not have a clear objective, which is to win the girl at all costs.  Aladdin is not too smart, lives on the street, is the luckiest man on the planet, and we must see all of that and more.    

Valeria Maldonado plays Jazmin.  She is judiciously aware and has her moments. These moments worked well at Casa 0101 but they do not translate well to the bigger venue.  That aside, she has some terrific moments when she is alongside Aladdin.

Finley Polynice did well as the Genie when he was heard over the ensemble. Genie’s overall objective is to rid himself of the lamp forever and he must be working with that thought in mind the moment he comes out of the lamp or the actions on stage are trite.  

Omar Mata is amazing as Jafar but really needs to work with the bird to get the relationship just right for this production and venue.  Mata needs to recognize the conflict surrounding Jafar, find the answers to overcome the conflict, and act on the solution. Mata’s voice should be used as a voice for evil.  His melodic tones are a knife that twists with his pleasure.  He uses the singsong voice in dialogue but doesn’t go far enough to make it a point.  The long note works well when it has an evil purpose.  (He has this note almost offstage left and that accomplishes little.)

Sebastian Gonzales requires the right characterization as Abu, the monkey who always comes to the rescue. The voice, and in particular the “screech” works terrifically. Abu is the sidekick who figures out things that Aladdin cannot. And, Abu is smarter than Aladdin.

Luis Fernandez-Gil has a wonderful smile and a great presence on stage, but he requires an objective to smooth out the actions of his performance. He is all over the stage without being specific to his character and his place in the performance. It is unfortunate the sound was not working in his favor on this night.  Iago is the whisperer of bad thoughts; he should be perched all over Jafar, his arms, his shoulder, and his head to convey his message, celebrate when he wins, and throw fits when he loses.  Think of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello.

Henry Madrid as the Sultán needs a moment in the beginning where we understand his power, his commanding presence as a ruler, and his command over Jafar.  And then we need to see that he has no control over his subjects, who speak another language, and is desponded and confused by his inability to rule effectively.

Other members of the cast who were not mentioned or did not perform the night I was there are as follows:

Monica Beld – Ensemble
Evan Garcia – Razú
Sarah Kennedy – Jazmin
Luis Marquez – Jafar
Bryant Melton – Ensemble
Rosa Navarrete – Rajah
Lewis Powell III – Genie
Jocelyn Sanchez – Ensemble
Abigail “Abey” Somera – Ensemble
Andrea Somera – Ensemble

Members of the crew are as follows:

Music Adapted, Arranged and Orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle
Musically Directed by Caroline Benzon
Costumes by Abel Alvarado
Sets by Marco De Leon
Lights by Sohail J. Najafi
Projections by Yee Eun Nam
Production Stage Managed by Jerry Blackburn
Produced by Felipe Agredano
Artistic Direction by Abel Alvarado
Steve Moyer Public Relations

Run!  And take a vanload of young kids. You’ll have a great time watching them smile. 
Tickets On Sale Now
Sept 8 to Sept 17

Los Angeles Theater Center
514 S. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Thursdays & Fridays
11am & 8pm

Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 5pm

$25 each for groups of 10 or more and for matinees only $20 each for groups of 10 or more:
Conrado Terrazas


No comments:

Post a Comment