Review: Wish, Wish, Wish: The Magic of MSMT's ALADDIN

By: Aug. 22, 2016

The young and young at heart were treated to a day of enchantment at Maine State Music Theatre today, when the company presented four performances of Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark's delightful musical retelling of Aladdin, directed and choreographed by Raymond Marc Dumont. Presented in a fully staged production, this timeless tale conjures up the magic of wish making, the power of love to transform, and the importance of believing in one's self.

In the past few seasons, MSMT has made a concerted effort to expand and enhance their Young Audiences series by offering original musicals based on traditional children's literature and packaged in sophisticated productions with elaborate costumes, imaginative scenery and stagecraft. Moreover, these hour-long performances are entirely created by MSMT's young professional artists- interns, apprentices, and local actors - thereby offering these artists a chance to gain valuable experience.

Both 2016 plays, Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk, are the work of the creative team of Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark, who have collaborated on fifteen original musicals geared to young audiences. Like so many of their creations, their Aladdin boasts a clever, witty, touching book coupled with memorable music and ingenious lyrics, and it spins its message of self-discovery and the power of embracing one's inner genie with an appealing sincerity and sense of humor. Robin and Clark know how to use songs to shape character, and they pen some charming lyrical moments such as the wistful "Somewhere, Somehow Soon" for Aladdin and Zenovia or "Magic Carpet Ride" for Aladdin and Cashew, or "Bad" for the evil Malaki. The authors also delight in involving the audience in the play, not only by having actors break the fourth wall, but in this case by actually inviting the youngsters to sing along, help "create the magic spell," and determine the outcome of the story. It is a device that adds measurably to the magic for all.

Raymond Marc Dumont brings his own magic as a savvy director to the work. He keeps the pace brisk, the gags amusing but not camp, and he helps the actors find a balance between the comic and the genuine. His interludes of movement and dance bespeak his skill as a choreographer, and he and his design team have created some beautiful visual effects using the fundamentals of the current main stage décor (for Mamma Mia!) and dressing them in the fantastical.

Music Director Ben McNaboe has created a few new arrangements/incidental music of portions using the Robin and Clark score, and he leads the three-person instrumental ensemble from the keyboards playing with feeling for the melodic and dramatic content of the piece. Props Master Samantha Penninipede, Paint Charge Sydney Yoeman, Technical Director Logan Lower, and Lighting Designer Austin Boyle collaborate to produce some fanciful "Orientalizing" effects, most notably the flying in of the magic lamp and mirror and the cleverly executed magic carpet that appears to float against a starry sky. Emily Wallace's costume designs are ornate, sumptuous, and not without a sense of the droll, while Sound Designer Nathan Dickson, Stage Manager Daisy Wolford, Assistant Director Jenna Adamek, and Assistant to the Director Haley Ostir ably complete the production team.

The cast invests the show with buoyant energy and warmth. As Aladdin Marty Lauter brings the perfect blend of boyish innocence, disarming sweetness, and shy awkwardness, and he makes his transformation from stammering youth to romantic hero a convincing journey. Lauter makes the most of his solo vocal moments with a tender "Somewhere, Somehow Soon" and a vibrant "Magic Carpet Ride," and he gets a chance to display his considerable gifts as a dancer in a few brief instances.

Megan Flynn tackles the extroverted role of the Genie with flair. She is tough, blunt, boisterous, and sexy by turns, and she delivers one of the show's best numbers, "Praise Allah" with power and verve. Alex Drost makes a dark, supercilious evil wizard Malaki, finding just enough tongue-in-cheek humor in the character to prompt the audience to pardon him at the end and permit him his comic about face. Ali Sarnacchiaro is an independent, strong-willed Zenovia, who knows her own mind and challenges her father's will. Katie Whittemore is an endearing monkey - I mean chimpanzee- Cashew, managing to strike a winning balance between animal and anthropomorphic. Giovanni Di Gabriele is Zenovia's bewildered and thwarted father Karim, while Kyle Laing sketches a quartet of riotously funny individual characters - the Guard, the clumsy suitor Schmendrick, the narcissistic Prince Vanity, and the lisping High Priest - each perfectly crafted. Berkley Jones's sharply mocking Magic Mirror and Lucifer offer nice comic interludes, and she and Taylor Gervais as Henchmen add to the vocal ensembles. Heather Morgan completes the cast as a graceful Scheherazade, who ties the tale together as its engaging storyteller.

Once again, MSMT demonstrates its commitment to winning young audiences and its belief in the magic of live theatre to enchant and to educate subtly. The company is blessed to have access to Robin and Clark's body of original musicals and to input from the creators themselves. So, too, are they fortunate to have assembled a company of young professionals whose work in a show like Aladdin heralds promising careers for them all and to be guided by talented and innovative leadership in the persons of Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark and Managing Director Stephanie Dupal. It is this hardworking, visionary creative spirit of the entire company that underlies the stage magic. If one can make a wish for the future of the theatre community in Midcoast Maine it might be that MSMT is able to continue to flourish and to realize its ambitious artistic vision.

Photographs courtesy MSMT, Olivia Wenner, photographer

Aladdin ran for four performances at the Pickard Theatre, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME on August 22, 2016. The 2017 Young Audiences series will present Robin and Clark's Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland.

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