Editors' pick

Aladdin's Luck

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Editorial Review

‘Aladdin’s Luck’ is full of interactive treasures for kids

By Celia Wren
Thursday, Oct 06, 2011

The broader economy may still be in a funk, but a bazaar in a fairy tale Middle East - temporarily located in Bethesda - is doing brisk business in invisible sesame cakes. At the start of "Aladdin's Luck," Imagination Stage's lively, good-humored season opener, an excitable baker in a yellow silk robe (Michael Glenn) scurries into view with a basket of the aforementioned delicacies. He's determined to keep them safe from that scalawag Aladdin, but he generously offers a cake or two to young theatergoers.

It's one of several moments of gentle, voluntary audience participation in "Aladdin's Luck," Imagination Stage Artistic Director Janet Stanford's adaptation of the famous tale from "The Arabian Nights." At other points in the production - directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and recommended for audiences 4 and older - young spectators are given a chance to set prices at the bazaar ($2 was the going rate for grapes and flatbread at a recent matinee) and the entire audience is encouraged to learn the snaky arm movements from a celebratory Persian dance.

The interactivity adds to the intimate vibe of the show, which relies on the skills of a mere three actors - plus video projections, snazzy costumes and atmospheric original music by Turkish composer Fahir Atakoglu - for the conjuring of the Sultan's palace, a sandstorm-thrashed desert and other exotic locales.

These milieus become fertile territory for the ambitions of Aladdin (Christopher Wilson), a rapscallion who is hanging out at the bazaar when he meets and falls in love with the Sultan's daughter, Princess Leilah (Katie deBuys). With the aid of a magic lamp, Aladdin transforms himself into a grand emir and wins the princess as his bride. But after the scheming sorcerer Al Zarnati (also Glenn) gets his hands on the lamp and imprisons Leilah, Aladdin must rely on his resourcefulness to save the day.

Wilson makes an affable Aladdin, and deBuys - who plays several roles - is particularly effective as Aladdin's dignified and wary mother. But it's Glenn who gives the production the most ebullience, whether he's portraying the baker, the goofily tenderhearted Sultan or the blustering Al Zarnati, who can pull dinars out of thin air.

Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden's handsome set, with its Moorish doorways, Moroccan lamps and oriental carpets, makes a flattering backdrop for the colorful robes, tunics and turbans devised by Katie Touart. A wall at the rear of the stage becomes the screen for projections that evoke a genie, a magic carpet and other wondrous phenomena. (Adam Larsen designed the video.)

Aladdin ultimately learns that such enchantments pale when compared with human love and the strength that comes from self-acceptance. It's a moral as wholesome as any sesame cake.