Rata callejera and hija del sultán fall madly enamorados with the help of a certain blue genio as Casa 0101 treats L.A. audiences to Disney’s Aladdin Dual Language Edition, a particular treat for those who hablan español, but you don’t have to be bilingual to find yourself falling under the spell of las noches de Arabia that have made the Disney animated feature a home video favorite these past twenty-five years.
In their ingenious tweaking of the original 1992 screenplay, book writers Jim Luigs and José Cruz González have imagined an Agrabah whose commoners speak only English and whose royals hablan solamente español, a language divide brought about when Jafar, the Sultan’s evil vizir, wished upon a magic lamp that he and only he would have the bilingual skills to navigate both worlds, thereby doubling his power over rich and poor.
Unfortunately for Jafar (but fortunately for monolingual citizens and audience members), los animales ended up bilingual too and ready to step in and translate when need be, a trio of curvy Royal Translators offering interpretive assistance as well.
This proves particularly helpful when English-speaking Aladdin and Spanish-speaking Princesa Jazmín meet by chance (he’s being chased after stealing a loaf of bread and she’s escaped the royal palace rather than be forced to choose among three unappealing suitors) and only Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu can facilitar la communicación between them.
As in the movie original, Aladdin soon finds himself arrested and locked in a cave where some inadvertent lamp rubbing releases a smart-mouthed Genie more than willing to transformar his new master into “Prince Ali” the better to win Jazmín’s hand in marriage.
Not surprisingly, El Principe Ali’s arrival at the royal palace does not sit well with Jafar, who’s made sure to add a new rule to the ancient law book. If Jazmín can’t find a husband within twenty-four hours, Jafar will become both her husband and eventual Sultan.
With Royal Translators, Abu, Jazmín’s pet tiger Raja, and Jafar’s parrot Iago around to interpret, those not fluent in both English and Spanish won’t have to wait too long for someone to clue them in to what’s going on, though truth be told, once Aladdin speaks Spanish, there’s a good deal more español being hablado than inglés.
Not that a bit of head-scratching matters all that much when cast members launch into one of Aladdin’s tuneful Alan Menken/Howard Ashman-or-Tim Rice songs, chief among them “One Jump Ahead/Un Salto Adelante,” “Friend Like Me/Un Amigo Fiel,” and of course “A Whole New World/Un Mundo Ideal” or one of Tania Possick’s terrifically choreographed production numbers ranging from belly-dance undulations to Las Vegas flash to some of the most taptastic footwork this side of La Calle 42.
Under Rigo Tejeda’s zesty direction, performances are all-around maravillosos beginning with hunky Daniel Martinez, whose Aladdin combines sultry Latin pop star looks with enough charm to win over any royal (or commoner’s heart), and Martinez’s Jazmín (Sarah Kennedy) is both lovely to look at and feisty enough to fight tigers for the street urchin she loves.
As for Aladdin’s Genie, Robin Williams may have met his match in Finley Polynice’s sensationally scene-stealing, code-switching Genio.
Luis Marquez makes for a deliciously dastardly Jafar, aided and abetted by a hand-puppet-manipulating Jason David’s hilariously straight-outta-Da-Bronx Iago, and speaking of talking non-humans, simians don’t get any more downright adorable than Sebastian Gonzalez’s looks-like-a-boy-but-he’s-really-a-monkey Abu.
Henry Aceves Madrid’s warm-hearted if rule-observing Sultan, Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete’s regal Raja, Evan Garcia’s tough-guy Razul, and Danielle Espinoza’s cheeky, acrobatic Magic Carpet are all winners as well, and the Royal Translators (Diana Castrillon, Blanca Espinoza, and Shanara Sanders) add Dreamgirls-style bilingual glamour and sass throughout.
As for Aladdin’s ensemble, not only do Andrew Cano, Alejandro Lechuga, Jesse Maldonado, Bryant Melton, Mariana Rocio Petersen, Jocelyn Sanchez, and Andrea Somera play a multitude of characters both royal and common, they prove themselves adept dancers, and never more so than in the Vegas-pizzazzy “Friend Like Me.”
Abel Alvarado’s dozens upon dozens of radiantly-hued costumes earn him top production design honors, looking particularly esplendidos under Soheil e. Najafi’s vibrant lighting design and against scenic designer Cesar Retana-Holguin’s Technicolorific set, complemented by Yee Eun Nam’s scene-setting projection design, with Karlo Shigeo Ishibashi’s myriad props and Antonio “Tony” Velis’s delightful puppets scoring bonus points and sound designer Alysha Bermudez insuring a razor-sharp mix of prerecorded instrumental tracks and amplified vocals under Caroline Benzon’s pitch-perfect musical direction.
Jerry Blackburn is stage manager/assistant musical director and Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera and Cristina “Crispy” Carrillo are assistant stage managers. Additional program credits are shared by Julius Bronola (costumes), Miguel Carachure (sound operator), Angelique Enos (spotlight operator), Vincent Sanchez (associate lighting designer), Gilbert Valenzuela (production manager), and George Villanueva (spotlight operator).
Edward Padilla is casting director/language coach. Valeria Maldonado, Omar Mata, Lewis Powell III, and Michael Torrenueva alternate with the leads reviewed here as Jazmín, Jafar, Genie, and Aladdin.
Disney’s Aladdin Dual Language Edition is presented by Casa 0101 and TNH Productions in association with Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo and produced by Felipe E. Agredano, Alvarado, Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla, Tejeda, and Coronado Terrasas. Josefina López is Casa 0101 founding artistic director.
One of the great joys of attending an Aladdin performance is seeing multi-generational families who may not all speak the same first language discovering the magic of L.A. live theater en familia in addition to the performance opportunities it provides its ethnically diverse cast. (Snaps to those who may have learned their parts phonetically, no easy task.)
Disney’s Aladdin Dual Language Edition may not offer el espectáculo (or the full Original Cast Recording’s worth of songs) of the still-running Broadway show, but till Aladdin On Broadway goes on tour, it’s the next best thing to seeing it on the Great White Way, and for audiences que buscan entretenimiento musical para toda la familia aquí en Los Angeles, it adds up to eighty delightful, tuneful minutes of Disney-style family fun.
CASA 0101 Theatre, 2102 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles.
February 6, 2017
Photos: Luis Gaudi