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MLT Juniors Conjure Lively ‘Aladdin’ Adaptation

Costumes, live music enhance Disney-inspired show on local stage

By Bonnijean Cooney Adams
The Tube City Almanac
January 12, 2024
Posted in: Entertainment

Members of the cast of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” at McKeesport Little Theater prepare for the show’s opening on Friday. (Photos by Bonnijean Cooney Adams for Tube City Almanac)

If you go...


Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.”

Where: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St.,

When: Friday, Jan. 12 and Saturday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m.;
Sunday, Jan. 14 at 2 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. and Friday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.;
Sunday, Jan. 21 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for students. Tickets available
through the MLT website or by calling the theater.

Those who love the story of Aladdin should thoroughly enjoy the latest Juniors’ show at McKeesport Little Theater.

Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” musical stage production features an expanded storyline that includes Aladdin’s fellow street urchins Babkak, Kassim, and Omar, who become his best friends, supporters, and rescuers.

There are some different songs in the stage version, but plenty of familiar tunes, too.

The theater is transformed into the town of Agrabah just in time for opening night, Friday (Jan. 12) with a colorful production complete with stunning costumes and great musical selections performed by a live pit.

Some of the actors are veterans of the Juniors program and have performed together there or elsewhere, while others are just getting their feet wet in theater.

Reagan Sheposh as Princess Jasmine and Lucas Sotereanos as Prince Ali rehearse with the cast of “Aladdin Jr.”

Veteran Lucas Sotereanos portrays the show’s namesake — a poor orphan growing up on the streets after his parents died – who is magically transformed through a powerful Genie into Prince Ali of Ababwa.

Sotereanos said he was pretty busy with other projects when auditions were announced for “Aladdin,” and he wasn’t quite sure if he had time to do the show or what to expect.

But with friends auditioning, too, he said he decided to join them and see what happened, not expecting to land the lead.

He said he considers his most challenging part to be one of the songs originally written for the Disney movie, but eliminated, then restored for the stage version.

“Proud of Your Boy,” Sotereanos said, “is a song Aladdin sings in memory of his mother, promising her he will change his ways and turn into someone she can be proud of.”

He said his favorite part of the show is “One Jump Ahead,” because he considers it a “good introduction to what he (Aladdin) is, and what he wants to be.”

With the expanded storyline with his friends, Sotereanos agreed having a good rapport with the actors in those roles was very important, so he was glad he already knew and had worked with them previously.

Although details of Aladdin’s early life aren’t clear, including how he ended up on the streets and even became involved in petty crimes, Sotereanos said he kind of filled in those gaps by imagining to what extent someone left without parents would need to go to survive.

On a lighter note, he concentrated on the happy times developing lifetime friendships with others in the same predicament.

Tika Gill as Genie is featured as the cast rehearses to “Never Had a Friend Like Me.”

Speaking of good friends, another MLT veteran Tika Gill portrays the Genie, who enables Aladdin’s transformation into Prince Ali in his attempt to change his life – and even potentially win the hand of the Sultan’s daughter, although she admonishes him from the start, “I can’t make people fall in love.”

As tech week began, Gill was in the middle of rehearsing Genie’s signature song, “Never Had a Friend Like Me” and explaining the “rules” for granting wishes.

As far as auditions, Gill said she definitely thought, “I need to be the Genie,” but also considered Jafar. So it’s no surprise that “Never Had a Friend Like Me” is her favorite scene.

“It’s so much fun,” Gill said. “I get to jump around, sing, and dance.”

After she landed the role, Gill said she “watched so many interviews and productions and studied interactions among the casts and Genie. Then I’d take parts of some of them to use in making my Genie unique.”

Lucas Alexa as Babkak, Julia Rae Jackson as Kassim, and Nie’Zhay Jefferson as Omar are the loyal friends who support Aladdin no matter what.

Sotereanos credited Jackson with convincing him to audition in the first place.

She described Kassim as “a wannabe Aladdin,” who longs to be a leader and bonds with him and the others when they find themselves in a similar situation.

“With their parents gone, they just stuck together and slowly but surely became friends,” Jackson said. “They all come to his rescue when he is thrown in jail.”

One of the differences between the Disney movie and stage musical is expanded roles for Aladdin's friends and fellow street urchins. From left are Julia Rae Jackson as Kassim, Nie'Zhay Jefferson as Omar, and Lucas Alexa as Babkak.

Jefferson’s character Omar is described as the kindhearted, sensitive soul of the group. She said Omar is a friend of the Sultan, Princess Jasmine’s father.

“I am excited to be in another musical here,” Jefferson said. “We (the friends) knew each other before, so that was good.”

She said her favorite show tune is “High Adventure,” where they are showcased.

Although young, Alexa is a veteran performer, previously appearing in Juniors’ shows “Seussical and “Frozen Jr.” He said he had no particular role in mind, just was happy to audition for another show.

As Babkak spends more and more time on the streets, he becomes known as the foodie of Agrabah, who loves to snack.

Where would a musical be without a villain who can be devious and undermining one minute, while coming across as the ultimate smooth-talking loyal advisor to the Sultan the next?

“I was just hoping to get a part,” said Noah Bowytz, who plays Jafar. “Then I had to figure out how to balance my character’s evil villain side with his sometimes humorous one – especially knowing I’d have to play off Iago.”

Bowytz said his most challenging part is the vocals, especially the low range his character needs to hit in the “Prince Ali Reprise.”

“Initially, that was not in my comfort zone,” he said, but now he feels comfortable with it.

The power-hungry Jafar (Noah Bowytz) shares a scheme with his loyal sidekick Iago (Bowie Koisor).

While Jafar is the villain plotting to overthrow the Sultan, there are plenty of light moments with sidekick Iago, so their chemistry is critical.

“We already knew each other,” he and Bowie Koisor, who plays Iago, said practically in unison.

Koisor liked the show on Broadway, and had roles of Iago or Genie in mind.

“I’m not sure I have a favorite part,” Koisor said. “I just like the whole production. I like the dynamics of the straight man (Jafar) and ‘that one’ – that’s me with the raspy voice.”

Bowytz said he was challenged trying to understand how Iago’s character works to make their interaction even better.

Although initially living worlds apart yet in close proximity, independent, curious Princess Jasmine and Aladdin find they have much in common.

Reagan Sheposh as Jasmine brings a background in singing and dancing to her role, and impresses Aladdin so much that he uses his wishes from the Genie to disguise him so he can see her again.

“I really liked the idea of doing something in theater,” Sheposh said, “I had the part of Jasmine or the Genie in mind, and am so happy with all the fun moments in this show.”

She said she was most challenged by how to be proper like a princess at times and learn all her lines. Sheposh said she also appreciates Jasmine’s independent side, and how she tells off Aladdin when he presents himself as Prince Ali.

“I love all the music and how good it all sounds,” Sheposh added.

Candee Jackson said she became involved with McKeesport Little Theater several years ago and found she loved the production side.

“It’s been an absolute joy to see some of the new, quieter kids find their voice and grow from auditions to now,” the producer said. “I know why (director) Dorothy Fallows has stayed with this so long now.”

Disney’s “Aladdin Jr. “ Cast and Crew

Tika Gill as Genie
Lucas Sotereanos as Aladdin/Prince Ali Ababwa
Reagan Sheposh as Princess Jasmine
Lucas Alexa, Julia Rae Jackson, and Nie’Zhay Jefferson as Aladdin’s best friends and fellow street urchins Babkak, Kassim, and Omar
Beckett Lowry as Sultan
Noah Bowytz as Jafar
Bowie Koisor as Iago
Megan Bowytz as Razoul, head of the Palace Guards, with Olivia Haskins and Taylor Lewis as guards
Maggie Badstibner as Isir, Sydney Hrinda as Manal, and Hadassah L. Cardaro as Rajah, Jasmine’s attendants
Evan Wolfgang as Prince Abdullah
Sophia Gill as Prince Abdullah’s attendant
Julia Rae Jackson as Spooky Voice
Hadassah L. Cardaro as Cave of Wonders
People of Agrabah: Caroline Martino, Destini Banks, Anthony Banks, Bella Daye Messner, Amanda Mihealsick, Amelia Atkins, and Lydia O’Grady

Director: Dorothy Fallows
Executive Producer: Jan Gerber
Producer: Candee Jackson
Music Director: George Pecoraro Jr.
Stage Manager: Candee Jackson
Choreographer: Samantha Mitchell
Set Build: Dave Fleming with Bry Zanotelli, Dorothy Fallows, Jennifer R. Vertullo, and Bowie Koisor
Pit: Casey Burgh and Tina Wos
Hair: Becky Alexa

Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a freelance contributor. She can be reached at adamsclick@aol.com.

Originally published January 12, 2024.

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