Large, young Theatre Albany cast set to perform 'Aladdin Jr.'

Jan. 14—ALBANY — When Shelley Keeley agreed to take on the task of director/choreographer for Theatre Albany's production of "Aladdin Jr.," the theater veteran decided to cast a wide net in her quest to find young actors to fill the play's 38 roles.

It was a strategy that worked better than she'd even hoped for.

"We sent invitations to 16 schools and homeschool associations asking if they had students who might want to be a part of the play," Keeley, a long-time but now retired music teacher who is directing her second play for Theatre Albany, said. "The response was amazing. With our cast, we have representatives of 16 schools and homeschool groups."

With this influx of students were many who had keen interest but no experience.

"There were several with acting experience, but we had many who came with a huge learning curve," Keeley said. "Some had never sang before; several had no acting experience at all.

"But that's what I love about productions like this. It's wonderful to watch these kids grow, to watch them become their characters. And it's fun to watch them develop into a little family. We've got kids from 10 to 18 years old, and they come from 16 different schools and backgrounds, but I have not heard one word of disagreement pass between them."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that theater veterans like Caden Thomas (Aladdin), Amelia Evans (Jasmine), David Albano (Jafar), Jordan Cleare (Iago), Sebastian Escovar (Sultan) and Elijah Strum (Genie) are part of the cast.

"There are some talented kids who are part of the production, but it takes every teacher skill I own to try and manage 38 young actors," Keeley said. "I knew this was going to be a good experience, though, when we had our first meeting back in November and did a read-through. Some of the kids had already gotten the script online and learned their lines."

"Aladdin Jr.," a theatrical take on the 1992 Disney movie classic "Aladdin," debuted in 2014. It's since been updated.

"There were additional characters added and a couple of roles taken out," Keeley said. "I love this version; there's a lot more humor in it."

Keeley and her husband, Mike, who serves as music director for Theatre Albany's "Aladdin Jr.," recently saw a production of the updated "Aladdin" on Broadway, which the director admits, has impacted her appreciation for the play.

"Mike and I saw the Broadway production, and it was fabulous," she said. "After seeing it performed, my expectations were increased. And with most of the kids in the play knowing that, I was afraid they might be intimidated. But I can honestly say as we prepare for the first show, they have met my expectations.

"After we selected the cast in November, we started rehearsing three nights a week. The last two weeks we've been rehearsing five nights a week. These young people have really done a fantastic job of taking on these characters. They're so into it, so excited. I think the community will really enjoy their work."

Emery Evans ("She's done a fabulous job, especially with all the sets in the play.") serves as stage manager for Aladdin Jr.

Performances of "Aladdin Jr." are scheduled the weekends of Jan. 20-22 and Jan. 27-29. Curtain will go up on Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees both weekends will start at 2 p.m.

Tickets, which are $15 and are on sale online now, will be available at the Theatre Albany Box office Jan. 18-20 and 25-27 from 2-5 p.m.

Aladdin Cast

Aladdin — Caden Thomas

Jasmine — Amelia Evans

Jafar — David Albano

Iago — Jordan Cleare

Sultan — Sebastian Escovar

Genie — Elijah Strum

Babkak — Luke Twiggs

Omar — Pedro Mercado

Kassim — Cole Reynolds

Isir — Ellie Spangenberg

Manal — Zoey Clack

Rajah — Mary Grace Piper

Apple Vendor — Sarah Mason Spangenberg

Attendant 1 — Haleigh Abercrombie

Attendant 2 — Zion Williams

Beggar 1 — Dorothy Collins

Baggar 2 — Emily Bradford

Beggar 3 — Lily Leister

Cave Of Wonders — Hunter Dalton

Fortune Teller — Leah Mullins

Guard 1 — Madelyn Owens

Guard 2 — Ashleigh Abercrombie

Spooky Voice — Cole Reynolds

Razoul — Noah Lorber

Shop Owner — Iva Evans

Prince Abdullah — Hunter Dalton

Agrabahns: Dorothy Collins, Isabella Escovar, Emily Bradford, Hallie Kate Berry, Sydney Bullard, Arianna Cavalcanto, Miley Clements, Baylor Coronati, Evans Fuller, Delilah Grossman, Ava Kosar, Hunter Dalton, Ava Mays, Madelyn Owens, Leah Mullins, Iva Evans, Zion Williams, Lily Leister, Andonis Simmons, Haleigh Abercrombie, Sarah Mason Spangenberg, Ashleigh Abercrombie

Stage Manager — Emery Evans

Music Director — Mike Keeley

Choreographer — Shelley Keeley

Director — Shelley Keeley