Youth theater group flies high with 'Aladdin'

Discover "A Whole New World" of magic, mayhem and magic carpet rides when Spotlight Youth Theater Aurora stages Disney's "Aladdin Jr." at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre, 1201 Main St., Batavia.

Public performances of the energetic musical begin Friday, Feb. 13, and run through Sunday, Feb. 22. Tickets are $10-$12. For details, visit

The Daily Herald caught up with director Suzanne Reeves of Naperville to find out more about the production. Reeves has been involved with Spotlight for nine years and this is the 10th show she's directed for the youth theater organization.

Q. Why did you choose to put on "Aladdin" for this particular show?

Suzanne Reeves. "Aladdin" is one of Disney's all-time favorite classics. The characters, the costumes, the songs and all the special effects make for such a spectacular show. And being able to perform at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre is such a treat. I jumped at the chance.

Q. For those who are not familiar with the story, please describe the plot of "Aladdin."

Reeves. Street rat, Aladdin, falls for the beautiful Princess Jasmine. But she must wed a prince, not a commoner. Aladdin is arrested on charges of stealing bread in the marketplace and is thrown into a cave of forgotten treasures. Here he discovers his new best friend, the all-powerful Genie and "wishes" to be a prince to win Jasmine's hand. From there, a variety of plot twists and turns unfold.

Q. How difficult or easy was it to cast the lead roles for this play? How many performers are there, total, and what is their age range?

Reeves. We have 93 performers in our cast ranging from 8 to 18. Casting a show is always one of the most difficult and most exciting parts of my job. I try to go into the process with a completely open mind. I often find that the kids surprise me, not with their talent, but with their creativity and depth of understanding of a character. I love seeing a child get a role that no one imagined them in before. Our leads are incredibly talented. They will blow the audience away. But what sets a good show apart from a great show is the caliber of the supporting cast. We have so many fun characters, stunning ensembles and cameo parts that make this show so much more than just about the main characters. Our supporting cast adds tremendous depth to our show, keeping the audience continuously entertained. There is always something clever to notice and something exciting to watch.

Q. Who are some of the actors in the lead roles?

Reeves. Aladdin is played by Gab Harder of Montgomery; Jasmine, by Lucy Hauser of Oswego; Genie, by Ben Rogers of Sugar Grove; and Jafar, by Keith Mankowski of North Aurora.

Q. How challenging was it for the cast to learn all the song and dance numbers in "Aladdin?"

Reeves. A Disney musical is all about the singing and dancing. And Disney doesn't do small little ditties. There are some huge musical numbers in "Aladdin Jr." And because of our talent and the theater itself, we are doing them huge. We really challenged the cast, giving them advanced harmonies and vocal techniques. And our dancers will leave you breathless. My goal is for every performer, no matter their level of ability, to learn new skills and to close a show even more skilled than when they opened it.

Q. What sort of special effects are involved in this production?

Reeves. We are so excited to be able to fly in this show. Everyone wants to see Aladdin and Jasmine soar on their magic carpet ride, and our audiences will not be disappointed. But we also have many more flying moments and special effects. I'm not going to spill our secrets, but let's just say the Magic Carpet is not the only thing reaching great heights across the sands of Agrabah.

Q. What has been the most rewarding part of putting this show together?

Reeves. As a director, it is so much fun to see ideas and a vision come to life. Months ahead, you plan and scheme and tell people what you're hoping for. They look at you like you're crazy, and then they make magic happen. But far and away, the most rewarding part is getting to see these kids shine. For some of our kids, this is their first lead part. For some, it's their first line, and for some, it's their first show. Watching them gain confidence, discover new skills and blossom as not only performers, but participants in a larger family gives me immense joy. I often sit in the back bursting with pride for our kids, and maybe wiping a tear or two away. But don't tell anyone, I have a reputation to uphold!

Q. What do you think audiences will like best about this show?

Reeves. I think they will like so many different parts of it. The music and story are so familiar, I think audiences will love seeing it brought to life. It's one thing to see a cartoon of a flying carpet, but when Jasmine and Aladdin are actually soaring above the stage with twinkling lights, real "clouds," gorgeous lighting and rich vocals, it's breathtaking. With a show like this, there is no such thing as "too much." We are incorporating all kinds of magic moments throughout the production. We cannot wait to hear see the audiences' faces and hear their reactions to some pretty spectacular moments. We are pulling out all the stops for this show.

Gab Harder of Montgomery plays the title role of "Aladdin" during a rehearsal of the Spotlight Youth Theater Aurora production. Performances are Feb. 13-22 at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre. COURTESY OF SPOTLIGHT YOUTH THEATER AURORA
Ben Rogers of Sugar Grove plays the Genie during a rehearsal for Spotlight Youth Theater Aurora's production of "Aladdin." COURTESY OF SPOTLIGHT YOUTH THEATER AURORA

If you go

What: Spotlight Youth Theater Aurora's production of Disney's "Aladdin Jr."

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13; 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14 and 21; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15 and 22

Tickets: $12 adults ($14 at the door) $10 children ages 2-17 and seniors 62 and older ($12 at the door)

Specials: All tickets are $10 for the "Family Day" show at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14. There is a $2 off discount code of "AuroraLove" for the 6 p.m. show on Saturday, Feb. 14.

Details: To purchase tickets online, or for information, visit <a href=""></a>/.

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