Overlooked by the powerful, and eager for a chance to prove himself, Aladdin hungers for some sign of magic to pick him up out of life’s daily routine. The same can be said of the target audience for Aladdin’s Luck: children, ages four and up, some of whom are seeing live theatre for the first time. So the show kicks off Imagination Stage’s new season on the right foot, with a spirited hero from a rich canon of stories.
That kick can’t sustain from beginning to end — Janet Stanford’s script doesn’t fully tap the sense of unflagging spunk and adventure that the young street urchin personifies — but with three winning actors on board it adds up to a likable little romp through Persia nonetheless.
In looking for a way to detach her play from the Disney book of assumptions, Stanford — who is also Imagination Stage’s Artistic Director — has emphasized luck as the major theme. How do we define luck, exactly, and what happens when someone gets too much of it?
This adapted story of one very lucky boy is still familiar to us: Aladdin (Christopher Wilson) escapes the markets and bazaars of his kingdom to embark on a journey with a mysterious magician (Michael Glenn), which soon sends him tumbling alone into a lost cave. The lamp he finds deep inside contains a genie, who offers him whatever he wants — new clothes, a new name, but most of all a challenge to remain honest and true to himself as he woos Princess Leilah back home (Katie deBuys).
The show is performed, with near-Olympian endurance, by only these three actors. Although their constant quick-changes (several often happen within the same scene) are fairly seamless and cause no technical trouble, one ends up feeling a bit exhausted on their behalf.
For the purposes of clarity, too, it seems a fourth actor would have been a wise investment. Kids are smart, but Glenn’s rapid quick-changes back and forth between brassy market vendor and wicked magician can befuddle even the patrons who can drive and pay taxes. And although deBuys proves capable of portraying Aladdin’s love interest, his mother, and his best friend Omar all in the span of fifteen minutes, Aladdin’s world starts to look pretty small pretty fast.
Perhaps if the company treated the rigorous costume-changing as something to showcase — or even joke a bit about — rather than something to try to conceal, we’d perceive them less as actor hurdles and more as part of the dance. But this small gripe simply goes on the wish-list. The more fundamental snag is a moral one. While Aladdin’s Luck is perfectly fun and often quite imaginative, the plot runs slack enough in certain places to cheat Aladdin and his friends out of a couple good life lessons.
With a little re-focusing, the script could shed some more light on Aladdin’s responsibility to be honest and respectful. While he does win the girl at the end, he has no need to renounce the riches he used to captivate his beloved in the first place. The play ends with a sword fight, which is fun, but rewards our protagonists’ deep-seated bravado rather than his humility. By the end, he hasn’t had to atone or apologize for the disdain he’d previously shown Leila.
But, of course, each storyteller has their own way of connecting. And, particularly with children’s theatre, it’s all about the reactions in the room. Saturday’s young audience responded positively, seemed excited, and squealed with excitement many times. Moments of audience interaction — particularly in the opening bazaar scene — were a big hit, with many volunteers. Adam Larsen and Aaron Fisher’s video design is notably creative as well, providing important story elements but also throwing some wow factor into a few otherwise unremarkable scenes.
The show doesn’t sizzle with the level of magic Aladdin finds in his beaten-up lamp, but as a smiling, communal trip to a faraway land long ago, director Kathryn Bryer and her trio of actors make good on their promise to grant some wishes.
Written by Janet Stanford
Music composed by Fahir Atakoglu
Directed by Kathryn Bryer
Produced by Imagination Stage
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission