HANNIBAL | Cast and crew members in the Hannibal Middle School Theater Club's upcoming production “Aladdin Jr.” have been working nonstop since auditions began in October, perfecting their lines, songs and dance moves to bring a bit of magic and an inspiring message to performances from Thursday, Feb. 27 to Sunday, March 1 in the HMS Auditorium.
Director Stacey Mueller said friends from the Hannibal-LaGrange University Theater Department, Quincy Community Theatre and Bluff City Theater joined her for the audition process, as each student prepared an identical song to sing and practiced scripted lines for the roles they chose. Mueller said the stage version of the tale of Aladdin differs from previous iterations with new characters, songs and other surprises. And Mueller felt the tale of Aladdin carried a positive message for the students in the cast and crew.
“I really like the story of Aladdin. I think he's a really interesting character,” Mueller said. “The journey he goes on to discover — 'it's OK to be me,' — for our middle schoolers, I think that's a really good lesson for them, that's it's OK to be yourself. You don't have to pretend to be somebody you're not. People will accept you and like you if you are genuine.”
Mueller said rehearsals moved ahead full-speed right after the cast and crew members were selected. Students practiced familiar songs like “Arabian Nights,” along with new selections like “High Adventure” and “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim,” featuring Aladdin's three good friends in the stage adaptation. Mueller said the students studied aspects of Middle Eastern dance, dress and customs outside of regular practice sessions. As soon as January came, the cast and crew rehearsed five days a week — making up for lost days due to inclement weather. The expansive dance numbers in the production contained difficult choreography and the students worked hard to meet those challenges and take Mueller's feedback to heart.
'They're a very dedicated cast. They want to make sure they know all their lines, know all their spots, know all their songs,” Mueller said, adding that many students practiced songs and solos outside of rehearsals. “They are really, really giving a lot of effort. I think that will show — how hard they've worked.”
Eighth grade student Cameron Cox, who plays the Sultan, said the body suit and costume are a lot of fun to perform in, and he likes that his character is “in charge.” Cameron enjoyed the chance to share in the performance with fellow cast and crew members.
“It's really fun to act with a lot of people, and it's a great opportunity,” Cameron said, adding he felt everyone's dedication was coming together smoothly.
“I feel like all of us worked really hard on certain things, and I feel in the end we're all going to come together and it's going to be a great production.”
Eighth grade student Sophia McSmith played the role of Babkak, one of Aladdin's three loyal friends. Sophia has experience singing in past productions, and she was happy to combine her singing talents with the chance to sharpen her skills with Babkak's spoken words.
“I'm really excited about the singing, because I've been in big productions before here, but I've always been a chorus person, I've never actually gotten to be a character,” Sophia said. “So this is my first time having lines and getting to do the big acting part. I love the songs and the dancing.”
Sixth grade student Jaxon Lay was the apple vendor, and the experience gave him the chance to meet new people and hone his social skills as he gained confidence speaking in front of a large group. He commended Mueller for her leadership and said the experience has been fun through each stage.
“I enjoyed the first day here,” he said.
Fellow sixth grade student Elyse Rapp agreed that it was fun to meet all the new people in the cast and crew during the rehearsal. She took on the role of the fortune teller, and she said it was a fun way to interact with everyone, “talking and just seeing the different people come to my booth.”
Eighth grade student Brookelyn Livesay plays the role of Rajah, Jasmine's handmaiden. She remembered studying Middle Eastern culture and gathering information and video about how a royal handmaiden would behave.
“I learned from that, and I just tried to do my best on stage of what the role is,” she said. Fellow eighth grader Andrew Krigbaum enjoyed taking on the role of Jafar, who has a much different personality from what Andrew exudes off-stage.
“It's fun to do, because I describe myself as the funny guy who no one really expects to be mean to anyone,” Andrew said. “So it's really fun to act like this on stage.”
Andrew said taking on the role was a challenge at first, but it became easier the more he worked at becoming Aladdin's foe. Fellow eighth grade student Jack Myers agreed that the students' hard work and camaraderie was evident throughout the entire process.
Jack originally auditioned for the part of Aladdin, but he said he enjoyed playing the character of Genie, allowing him to “go all out.”
“I think my favorite part is getting to be the Genie — the costume, the props, the makeup, everything — it's just so cool,” Jack said. “I really like the part.” And Jack was excited for his fellow cast member, seventh grade student Colin Brown, who got the role of Aladdin.
Brown began working with fellow cast members on scenes piece by piece beginning in November — making strides with each practice to arrive at the dress rehearsal stage and perform.
“I really like my solo song, 'Proud of Your Boy.' That's probably my favorite part,” Colin said. “I get to sing, and it's my moment to shine, and I really like it.”
Eighth grader Lanie Privett plays Jasmine for her third year on stage, and she enjoys expanding her alto singing range into the soprano register as she practices the songs and delves into Jasmine's characteristics.
“I love being Jasmine. It's an honor my eighth grade year — it's wonderful,” Lanie said. “I really like Jasmine's character because she's kind of trapped in the palace, but then she finds a way out while still being with her family. And I really like interacting with Aladdin and the Sultan, and just everybody in the cast is wonderful.”
Showtimes for the HMS Theater Club's production of “Aladdin Jr.” will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27 and Friday, Feb. 28 and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29 and Sunday, March 1. in the HMS Auditorium. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children. More information is available by calling the school office at 573-221-5840.