Conejo Valley’s Young Artists Ensemble Rocks Aladdin!

“Welcome to Agrabah”…a group of young performers in Arabic garb welcomes you to the fictional Arabian city as you enter the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. Once in the theater, you are transported to a market square outside the palace of the Sultan where Aladdin begins his adventures with petty crime, magic lamps, flying carpets, evil schemers, and a lovely princess. With the help of a well-caffeinated genie he learns the pitfalls of dishonesty, the value of being himself, and how to win the heart of a princess.

I really enjoy local theater, and we have some great performance companies in our area. With a stepdaughter involved in local youth productions, my wife and I have been attending a number of performances with these young performers.  I can tell you that they work as hard as any actor or actress out there, spending hours upon hours together perfecting their art and learning the ropes of the theater. The end result is a play that is as well-rehearsed as any local show.

You are all probably familiar with the story of Aladdin, but we recommend that you come see this presentation of the classic tale and enjoy the work of some very talented young artists. First, Aladdin is well cast in Gabriel Vernon C. Nunag. He has a certain poise that lies somewhere between Justin Bieber and Elvis Presley. His outfits help in this area as well (see photo). He can croon with the best of them, and he never gets away from his character’s naive sense of discovery, be it with power, money, or girls. He plays opposite Kate Fruehling as Princess Jasmine. She carries several musical solos with confidence and grace.  I felt most engaged with her work in the “Whole New World” duet with Aladdin. Chemistry. Power.

Besides the main lead roles, there were some standout performances from the other cast members. The dynamic duo award from me goes to the Genie, played by Mariah Tobin, and the Magic Carpet played by Allison Zatlin. They are the heroes that never made it to Super status, but seem content to be as helpful as they can, and always with a smile on their faces. Tobin has a big stage presence and her character is all about the show part of the show. Her part is funny and she does the comedy well. Without any actual lines in the play, Zatlin, as the Magic Carpet, says everything she needs to say with an enthusiastic combination of facial expressions, body language, acrobatics, and effervescent charm. Without a word, we know what she was saying. Another standout is the evil Jafar (Kyle Warner). Warner plays a bombastic, yet ultimately dopey, villain with a propensity for self adulation and a gift for interpretive dance. If he did Shakespeare, he could be a great Prince of Aragon. There are few things funnier than a big villain doing soft-shoe, and Warner nails it.

A few random thoughts: For a moment I had this thought that it would be really funny if the Sultan (Cameron Ivan Love) channeled Peter Cook from his famous role as the “Impressive Clergyman” in the Princess Bride. That thought only lasted a second, but it would have been really fun to do that with this role. I guess I can say that since I didn’t actually see the Aladdin movie. Props to Cameron though, a fine Sultan. I also really liked the opening scene for Iago the parrot (Mackenzie Dunton). For me, the squawks are like a cowbell. “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is MORE COWBELL“. Thanks for making me laugh :).

The remaining cast were all very well rehearsed and played their roles with enthusiasm and skill. The show’s Director, Suzanne Tobin should be proud of the entire group. It really is a great show.

– Brian Stark

Young Artists Ensemble will be performing Aladdin Friday-Sunday through February 15th at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts. Tickets are available at or call (805) 381-1246. 

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