By Jonathan Thunderbird-Olivares
I had never seen Casa 0101’s stage so lit up in luminescent colors before: glowing yellows, oranges, and bright blues. At a recent performance of Disney’s Aladdin, the theater’s first few rows were filled with familiars: faces of familia, moms, dads, and little ones cheering for the bilingual musical production to begin.
There was a sense of familial wholeness and LGBTQ pride but the language never overstepped any PG boundaries while portraying queer characters and alternative masculinities. So, if you are interested in this play because you want to bring the abuelos as well as the chiquillos, you found the right one.
This is not director Rigo Tejeda’s first musical here. A few years before he directed a very successful production of the Tony Award winning In The Heights at Casa.
Personally, I have never been too fond of romantic musicals or movies, but this particular musical called to me because it is Spanish-English bilingual; it brings the classic Disney movie Aladdin to the community with accessible language and visuals.
As the play began the music queued. The actors’ typical Arabic costumes shined in all their bejeweled glory as the light hit all the perfect angles. Many of the actors portrayed flamboyant and at times, self-absorbed characters, which in turn provoked many cheers in the crowd.
To many this play is familiar, but as a movie: 90’s kids will remember the splendor of colors and action that once only played in our video cassettes. In a story very similar to that of Romeo and Juliet, Aladdin and Jazmin stand in opposite sides of society. Jazmin is princess and daughter of the Sultan, while Aladdin is poor and a robber squandering around for food and goods to survive. And though Jazmin has all the riches of her father’s kingdom, she lacks freedom of choice; she must get married and she must marry prince, rich man, or high ranking official.
As she meets the princes of the surrounding kingdoms, it’s affirmed that none of those men can relate to her. They lack humility, adventure, and compassion. But one day she disobeys her father orders and leaves the castle to explore the streets. There she runs into Aladdin—who she sees as a bright-eyed young man with the ability to choose where he wants to go without the oversight of an all-powerful father.
Aladdin is dismayed by her views of his life, what she interprets as freedom, without seeing the economic conditions and language barriers he has to confront every moment of his life. People like him only speak one language (English) while the royalty speak another (Spanish), creating divide in governance communication and accountability.
The villain of the story is Jafar (Luis Marquez) who does an excellent job hitting every singing note in the play. Cunning, malevolent, and shrewd he finds a way to arrest Aladdin for stealing, putting Jazmin’s only true love in a cave, slated for murder by the royal guards. But in the process Aladdin runs into a magical lamp which he rubs and produces a powerful genie that helps him, granting him three wishes that will help him overcome challenges on the way.
Beautifully choreographed, the play is filled with so much life and color, sudden movements and leaps, that help transition from one scene to another. Your eyes are glued to the actors as they sway through the stage and sing. Out of the many dancers, Andrea Somera stood out, as she gracefully fell and picked herself up and stood true to her surroundings, an Arabian neighborhood about to change. No longer would the people be oppressed by monolingualism, the curse which Jafra wished on his people.
Photo above: Jason David (left) and Omar Mata in Disney’s ‘Aladdin Dual Language Edition’. Photo by Luis Gaudi.
Aladdin Dual Language Edition plays Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2, 5 and 8 pm; and Sundays at 1:00 4:00 and 7 pm., through Feb. 19. Tickets are $30 General Admission; $25 Students and Seniors; and $20 for Boyle Heights residents with ID.
Casa 0101 Theater is at 2102 East First Street (at St. Louis Street).