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The City Journals

‘Aladdin Jr.’ flies into Olympus Jr. High

Mar 14, 2018 01:32PM ● By Travis Barton

Olympus Jr. High performs “Aladdin Jr.” on March 15–17, 19 at 2217 East Murray Holladay Road. (Stock Photo)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]


For three days in March, the Olympus Jr. High auditorium will be transformed into a sultan’s palace, a hidden cave and the city of Agrabah.

Directed by Zeke Totland, “Aladdin Jr.” will play at 7 p.m. on March 15–17, 19 at Olympus Jr. High (2217 East Murray Holladay Road). Tickets are $5.

The famous Disney animated (and soon to be live action) film and Broadway musical tells the story of a “street urchin” who is granted three wishes from a genie.

Totland, who teaches drama, stage crew, ESL and yearbook, is in his eighth year at the school. He had multiple reasons for choosing “Aladdin Jr.” as the musical this year. In addition to incorporating new teachers and thinking about the student talent at the school, Totland also thought of it as a tribute to Robin Williams who played Genie in the animated film. Totland got to meet him while teaching Williams’ son in San Francisco.

The musical also offers a tribute to what Totland calls “the mysticism behind the Middle East.”

“I think it’s kind of a great way to represent the middle east in a positive light,” he said.

The story begins in Agrabah with a narrator, an important aspect for Totland. “I think this show is about the art of storytelling,” he said.

The show features various narrators from a gypsy family and gypsy peddlers who step outside the show and tell the story. Totland’s vision was to bring back the oral traditions of storytelling.

“Hopefully when people leave they’ll say, ‘Oh we need to tell more stories orally. We don’t just need to put our kids in a room with a book and say read this story and learn how to appreciate stories,’” he said.

Totland also prefers shows that involve the evolution of a young character. “I like to do shows here every year that have the young character coming to terms and sort of finding themselves and growing up before your eyes,” he said.

And what better show for that then about a princess (Jasmine) who stands up for herself and a homeless boy (Aladdin) who realizes he has untapped potential?

“I think (students in junior high) are going through that…so in this play our main characters figure that out and that’s cool,” Totland said.

The director said he doesn’t cut anyone, bringing the cast and crew to 142 members. While it incorporates many students, the mass coordination necessary can be a challenge.

“The greatest thing about this community is that we have such great support,” Totland said. “They love the theater, they appreciate it, they have deep pockets so they can help financially if we need something…they go the distance.”

Totland has taught since 1999; he’s worked in four other schools and said Olympus Jr. High is “a good one to be at if you want to do theater.”

He was especially complimentary of a community parent Holly Burton, who choreographs the plays, as well as Jayne Springman, music director/choreographer. “Aladdin Jr.” will be the 16th show Totland and Springman have collaborated on. Totland said Springman is crucial in putting these shows together.

“We work well together,” Springman said simply.

Though March 19 marks the end of the 10-week production process, Totland said he enjoys watching the cast and crew arrive excited, work hard and “see them come to life.”

“They’re so happy and there’s such a light that goes off inside them,” he said.

He added that doing shows should be a requirement for students because they learn, grow and gain confidence for life.

“Kids come back to me 10 years later and say, ‘what we did at the school changed me — made me more confident, made me feel better about myself.’”

The cast includes Jared Muse (Aladdin), Caleb Robison (Jafar), Madison Barnes (Jasmine), Sophie Hansen (Iago), Liam Kimball (Sultan), Themi Kambouris (Abu) and Ivy Rich (Genie). Additional cast includes Claire McBride (Queen of Agrabah), Gabriel Smith (Raja), Wynn Gibbons (Zelda), Emily Blaser (Cherezade), Francesca Vales (Zara), Preston Berry (Dunafa), Andrew Bennett (Hazeem), Jack Burton (Akim), Razoul (Brent Probst), Lola Tanner (Maklava), Michael Vail (Prince Baba), Ryan Edwards (Prince Dahdu), Jack Wallace (Prince Pas) and Owen Jenkins (Baker).