A few weeks back I reviewed the Young Artists Ensemble (YAE) in their production of Aladdin Jr. for Chillin’ in the Conejo. You can see that review HERE. Tonight I went back for the opening night of the same play with some remarkable added cast members from Conejo Theater for Everyone (CTFE). CTFE is a collaboration between YAE and the Conejo Recreation and Park District’s Therapeutic Recreation Unit where young actors and actresses with disabilities join in the fun. They really did an awesome job together. The nearly sold out opening night crowd was engaged from the opening scene and it added to the fun of the show.
Presiding over the events this evening was Luis U. Tirado as the Sultan of Agrabah. This young man is totally cut out for the throne. His regal repose and firm command were in full effect. Plus, he looked great in the suit! My favorite new player for this production was Shannon Murphy. She played the evil Jafar’s parrot sidekick Iago, and was spot-on with the wisecracks. Rather than wearing a parrot costume as was done in the YAE show, she worked with a larger-than-life parrot puppet that I thought added a fun comedic element. She was really funny. Razoul, the enforcer for the evil Jafar, was also well-played by Brianna “Breezy” Johnson. She has a rather Stentorian delivery, so she barks out orders quite effectively. She has a tough job having to supervise a bumbling staff of evil guards. Joining the troop of guards this evening was Harold “Hoppy” Munz. He has a great scene in the cave where they have imprisoned poor Aladdin. Munz’s timing on his lines adds humor to the scene that was accentuated by how his fellow guards played off him. There was some chemistry here that I really appreciated.
As anyone who has seen this play knows, the singing is really spectacular. The song leaders for the ensemble are the story’s narrators. This evening the narrators included new actresses Miranda Berenstein, Brooke Baldauf, Megan Tresback, and Erin Schleich. They all performed very well and sang their solos with confidence and skill. They are front and center in a number of scenes and all did a fantastic job of setting the scene for the play. The one added cast member that I thought might have had the most fun tonight was Cassie Leas, playing the baker. First, she’s adorable, and her smile could light up the whole theater. She shined in the closing number and I don’t think anyone in the theater missed it. When all the bows were done, the whole cast of the show was treated to a well-deserved standing ovation.
It’s remarkable enough that the Conejo Valley has such fine youth theater opportunities, but the Conejo Theater for Everyone program is really something special. The fine young actors and actresses obviously put their hearts and souls into the production and it showed. As a community, we should all be proud of them. We should also applaud the YAE mentors who “traded places” to help the CTFE performers to hone their craft as they moved into their former roles. Friends, this is Conejo character!
The CTFE production of Aladdin Jr. runs through this weekend, so make your plans to attend right away. Learn more about Conejo Theater for Everyone at their website http://www.yaeonline.com/CTFEInfoPage.htm
Brian Stark – Chillin’ in the Conejo