January is a hard month for which to book theatre. Shows are loathe to rehearse over the holidays, and there is fatigue amongst theatre goers. My birthday was on a Saturday night in January this year, and so we were casting about for just the right show to go to — something fun, something musical, something memorable. Every other weekend had something, but for this weekend nothing felt right.
Until magic happened. A listing came across Goldstar for something very intriguing: a dual-language version of the Disney musical Aladdin, where the people in the palace spoke Spanish, and the people in the street spoke English. The conceit was that the evil vizir, Jafar, did this to sew confusion amongst the people and gain additional power. This conceit even got written up in the Los Angeles Times, which noted the family-friendly concept first premiered at Theatre Under the Stars (FB) in Houston in 2009. It was being done at Casa 0101 Theatre (FB), whose mission is provide inspiring theater performances, art exhibits and educational programs – to Boyle Heights, thereby nurturing the future storytellers of Los Angeles who will someday transform the world. For those unfamiliar with the area, Boyle Heights is the original immigrant home in Los Angeles. It is where the first synagogue was in Los Angeles, was home to Russia, German, and Japanese immigrants (we had a delightful dinner in the last remaining Japanese restaurant down the street), and is now multiethnic, but primarily Hispanic.
This sounded fascinating, and as it was my birthday and my choice, guess where we were last night. It was a transformative experience, not only for the audience in attendance, but for us as well. We had been having a really bad week with home maintenance issues and such, and this evening and experience completely lifted our spirits. We even bought some artwork from their gallery.
So, Disney’s Aladdin, or to be precise, Aladdin Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual, is based off the licensed Aladdin Jr. version from MTI. This is very different from the version that was done at the theme parks, and it is different from the version that is currently running on Broadway. It is based on the animated film, but includes some songs that were cut from the film and changes the story slightly (and of course, the dual-language version changes it even more). The basic structure of the Aladdin Jr. version can be found in the Wikipedia synopsis. The key change here is that the narrators become three translators, able to move between the two languages and clarify for the audiences; the talking animals, similarly, have the power of translation. The palace royalty and servants speak Spanish, the common people in the market speak English.
Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking: I’m not fluent in Spanish, how can I understand the show. You don’t need to be. I find it neat to listen to shows in other languages: I have recordings of Les Miserables in the original French, Hair in both Hebrew and French, and my favorite: a recording of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Other languages become like a poetry, a melodic flow that combines with performance and movement to tell the story. It is truly magic to see.
Under the direction of Rigo Tejeda (FB), this talented cast of 24 make the magic onstage. This is not to say there are 24 at every performance: the lead roles (Aladdin, Jazmin, Genie, Jafar) are dual-cast and alternate performance. Tejeda’s direction brings a wonderful energy and sense of fun to the production; there is a clear sense that this cast is having a great time doing the show and enthralling the audiences. It projects, amplifies, and makes magic. The direction also makes the jumping back and forth between the languages seamless; overall, the cast is to be commended for being able to handle both languages so well.
In the lead positions of our lovers are Michael Torrenueva/FB (at our performance, alternating with Daniel Martinez) as Aladdin, and Valeria Maldonado (FB) (at our performance, alternating with Sarah Kennedy (FB)) as Princess Jazmin. Torrenueva was extremely spirited and dashing, exuding charm; Maldonado’s Jazmin was lovely and playful and mischevious; again, with a strong singing voice. The two were just a delight to watch.
The evil side of the equation was played by Omar Mata/FB (at our performance, alternating with Luis Marquez/FB) as Jafar, supported by Jason David/FB‘s puppetry of Iago. Mata was a towering presence (at least a foot taller than any other player) who exuded evil in both look and performance. He was given a song, “Why Me?”, that was cut from the original animated movie and does not appear in the Broadway version.
The magic came from the Genie — at our performance, Finley Polynice (FB), alternating with Lewis Powell III/FB. High energy, playful, great singing voice, wonderful dancing. He also had a really great comedic style.
In supporting positions were Sebastian Gonzalez/FB as Apu, the monkey, and Rosa Navarrete (FB) as Raja, the tiger. These two handled the job of translation quite well, and had wonderful facial expressions and reactions, combined with strong dancing. Also serving a translation role were the three narrators/translators, Diana Castrillon (FB), Blanca Espinoza/FB, and Shanara Sanders (FB). Great singing, great dancing, great facial expressions, and just a delight to watch.
Also supporting the leads were Danielle Espinoza (FB) as the magic carpet, Henry Madrid/FB as the Sultan, and Evan Garcia/FB, as Razul the Captain of the Guards. Espinoza’s role was primarily dance and movement; she excelled at this as well as with her facial expressions. Madrid’s Sultan showed his experience — he had the right aura of authority, fun, and fatherhood.
On top of all the above, however, the magic of this production was cemented by the ensemble: Andrew Cano/FB, Alejandro Lechuga/FB, Jesse Maldonado (FB), Bryant Melton (FB), Mariana Rocio Petersen/FB, Jocelyn Sanchez/FB, and Andrea Somera (FB). They were high energy, strong dancers, playful in the background, with with great voices — in particular, Somera who had a voice that just shone through the songs.
The production was under the music direction of Caroline Benzon (FB), assisted by Jerry Blackburn (FB). During the performance, the music was prerecorded. I do not know if the tracks were those provided by MTI, or whether they were recorded specifically for this performance. The program does not make this clear. The music was adapted, arranged, and orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle (FB).
Turning to the production side: Cesar Holguin (FB)’s scenic design was relatively simple, but worked quite well when combined with Karlo Ishibashi (FB)’s properties and Yee Eun Nam (FB)’s projections. Alysha Bermudez/FB‘s sound design was clear and had a reasonable balance between voice and music. Sohail e. Najafi (FB)’s lighting design focused attention appropriately and established the mood well. Abel Alvarado (FB)’s costume design combined with Jules Bronola/G+‘s costumes to establish locale. They were sexy as appropriate, with the only drawback being the alas-too-requisite banding to hold sound equipment. Completing the production credits are: Jerry Blackburn (FB) – Stage Manager; Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera/FB – Assistant Stage Manager; Angelique Enos/FB – Spotlight Operator; Luis Gaudi (FB) – Photographer; Steve Moyer Public Relations – Publicist; Edward Padilla (FB) – Casting; Vincent A. Sanchez – Associate Lighting Designer; Soap Studio Inc. – Graphic Design; Tony Velis – Puppet Design; George Villanueva/FB – Spotlight Operator. Aladdin was presented by Casa 0101 Theatre (FB) and TNH Productions (FB), in association with Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo (FB), and produced by Abel Alvarado (FB), Felipe Agredano (FB), Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla (FB), Rigo Tejeda (FB), and Conrado Terrazas (FB).
Aladdin – Dual Language Edition / Edición de Lenguaje Dual continues at Casa 0101 Theatre (FB) through February 19, 2017, and there are hopes to extend if funding permits (so donate). Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website, or by calling the Casa 0101 box office at 323.263.7684 between the hours of 11AM to 6PM M-F. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.
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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Upcoming Shows: January ends with Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals.; we’re also seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. March may also bring Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) as that gets shifted from April. Speaking of April, it will hopefully start with a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.
P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announces February 7th.