News Column

A magical ride: Eau Claire Children's Theatre's production of 'Aladdin Jr.' begins tonight

November 21, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 21--Eau Claire Children's Theatre is taking audience members on a magical ride -- a magical carpet ride, that is.

"Aladdin Jr.," an hourlong adaptation of the popular 1992 animated Disney movie "Aladdin," opens tonight at The State Theatre, and five shows will be presented before the weekend is over. Guests will join popular characters Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie and Jafar in this musical adventure.

"This show has everything that Disney is known for: good guys, bad guys, princess, great music that everyone knows and, of course, a happy ending," said Dan Ekblad, who plays the villain Jafar. "The show is very nice and short, so kids will easily sit through the entire thing. It's really great for the whole family."

The musical takes place in Agrabah, a city of enchantment set in a foreign land. The main character, Aladdin -- a poor, street-living young man played by Kelan Smith -- discovers a magic lamp and the Genie that resides inside it, and Aladdin is suddenly opened up to a whole new world of possibilities.

With the Genie's help, Aladdin must battle Jafar for power of the magic lamp and to win the hand of the beautiful Princess Jasmine -- played by Paige Vasel.

"At this point, the movie's been out for so long that parents with young children will most likely have grown up with it," said Chris Belonge, who plays Genie. "It will be cool for adults to reconnect with that part of their youth. I know in my house growing up, the VHS tape got worn out we watched it so much. It'll be fun to rediscover, or for children to discover for the first time, this story."

The show is filled with popular songs, such as "A Whole New World," and others that will be easily recognized from the movie. But the Children's Theatre also added its own touches to the script.

Ekblad said there are plenty of lines geared toward the adults in the audience that children won't understand, making the show enjoyable for everyone. Also, there are songs not heard in the movie as well as new characters, such as Razul -- played by Frank Rineck -- who counterparts Jafar as a villain.

"I like being the bad guy," Rineck said. "Last time I played a villain in a show, when we came out for curtain call, I actually got booed. So that's what I'm aiming for again this time. I want my character to be hated."

Aside from the addition of a few characters -- and the subtraction of characters such as the monkey, Abu, and the tiger, Rajah -- the other characters in the show will be easily recognizable. Aladdin's playfulness and youthfulness will be quickly picked up on, while Jafar's evil nature will be read instantly.

For the actors in this show, playing characters they grew up watching as children is the most exciting part of the production. For them, bringing these characters to life is really what makes "Aladdin Jr." such a magical show.

"Princess Jasmine was my favorite Disney princess growing up, so I was excited to be able to play a role like this," Vasel said. "It was so important to me as a kid. I wanted to live up to that, and it's been really exciting to step into Jasmine's gold shoes."

Syrstad can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or jocelyn.syrstad@ecpc.com.

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(c)2013 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

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