It was 108 degrees when I arrived at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. A short ride on the air conditioned Metrolink to the Forest Park Station, with a transfer to the #3 Trolley, conveniently delivered me to the front door of The Muny in less than half an hour. Celebrating its 94th season this year, The Muny, located in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri, seats 11,000, of which 1,500 free seats in the last nine rows are available on a first come, first served basis for each performance.More than 10,000 people came out to see Aladdin, the only children’s show of The Muny’s seven show season. Attending a musical theater production at The Muny is unlike any I have experienced before. There were flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder as I settled into my box seat in section K next to a woman who had been coming here for 50 years, and was accompanied by her granddaughter. As the orchestra began to play the national anthem, the entire audience rose to face the flag and sing.
The two-hour and 15-minute stage adaptation incorporates the Academy Award-winning songs from the 1992 film, penned by composer Alan Menken (Sister Act, Leap of Faith, Newsies) and lyricists Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid) and Tim Rice (Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar), with a new book by Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), who has also penned new lyrics along with Menken. The Disney film was written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, and directed & produced by Ron Clements & Jon Musker. Mike Isaacson, The Muny’s new executive producer, and Aladdin helmer Gary Griffin handpicked a stellar group of Broadway vets in fine voice and at the top of their game, who after only 11 days of rehearsal under the musical direction of Greg Anthony, came together to create divine theater magic. This included the delightful pairing of Robin de Jesus as Aladdin and the enchanting Samantha Massell as Jasmine. John Tartaglia as the Genie is a high octane force of nature who arrives on a motorcycle, shifting the show into high gear with his singing, dancing and impeccable comedic timing. As Jafar, Thom Sesma is a villain of Shakespearean proportions with his comic sidekick Iago the parrot, portrayed by Curtis Holbrook. Ken Page is a warm and regal presence as the Sultan. When the show opened with the brilliant comic trio of actors, Jason Graae, Francis Jue and Eddie Korbich as street musicians, who ride onstage astride camels and serve as the narrators for the duration of the show, I knew I was in for a wild ride. Exploding onstage with an almost irreverent spontaneity, Aladdin, is a brilliantly colored crowd pleaser with big song and dance numbers choreographed by Alex Sanchez. Exquisitely detailed costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, sets by Michael Anania and lights by Seth Jackson and sound by Jason Krueger effectively evoke the mythical Arabian city of Agrabah. While the source material of Aladdin is drawn from the original film, there are different characters, songs that were cut prior to the original film release have been restored, and different plot twists, with a nod to the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road” movies. The ensemble cast features Daniel Bevins, RJ Brown, Ian Coulter-Bufford, Alex DeLeo, Julie Furrer, Michael Hartung, Cameron Hobbs, Jessica Holzem, Jordan Fife Hunt, Isabelle McCalla, Sarah Meahl, Maggie Mial, Erin N. Moore, Adam Rogers, Curtis Schroeger, Tommy Scrivens, Kendal Sparks, Travis Ward-Osborne. The adorable Muny Youth Ensemble includes Dylan Arnold, Bryce Bayer, Brooke Behan, Ellie Bennett, Jordan Bollwerk, Allison Broadhurst, Elijah Brown, Andrew Chapman, Madi Cupp-Enyard, Tim Eidman, Abby Gerstner, Angela Gerstner, August Hanlon, Conner Hanlon, Fergus Inder, Sydney Jones, Lydia Jost, Taylor Lehman, Anna Manoogian, Alisha Naylor, Trey Perlut, Lauren Roither, Klarissa Sheffield, Holland Michelle States, Erica Staub, LeeAnna Studt, Essence Tyler, Brynley Wall.
Adding to the magic of the performance, a lightening storm and a slight shower during intermission did not deter the audience who stayed to watch the second act. I had the best time and you will too. For more information or to make reservations, call (314) 361-1900, extension 308. Single tickets are available at The Muny Box Office in Forest Park, online or by phone. To purchase Season Tickets by phone, call (314) 361-1900, extension 550, or order online at www.muny.org. The Muny Box Office is now open from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Thom Sesma (Jafar) just participated in the all-star Shinsai: Theaters For Japan benefit at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in NYC, in memory of the tragic events of March 2011 and in tribute to the heroic recovery efforts of the Japanese people. In May of this year, he was the keynote speaker at the Library of Congress’ Asian American Pacific Islander Collection honoring Asian-Americans in the performing arts.
In January 2012 he returned to New York from Las Vegas where he played Scar in Disney’s The Lion King for a two and a half year run at The Mandalay Bay Theatre. On Broadway he starred in the Twyla Tharp-Bob Dylan collaboration,The Times They Are A Changin’. Other credits on and off-Broadway and in national tours include leading roles in Miss Saigon, Titanic, Search & Destroy,Man of La Mancha (2003), and in Ivanov, Rashomon, Baba Goya, In a Pig’s Valise, As Thousands Cheer, A Hard Heart, Cymbeline, and Othello. Other credits include Durango, Dinner With Friends, The Molly Maguires, Romeo & Juliet, The Normal Heart, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale and The King and I, at some of America’s leading theatres including Yale Rep, The McCarter, The Old Globe, Arena Stage, Baltimore Centre Stage, Berkeley Rep, and others. TV and film credits include guest starring roles on “Person of Interest,” “Third Watch,” “Law & Order,” “Whoopi,” “Trinity,” “Lay the Favorite,” “Over/Under,” among many others and daytime soaps. He trained for several years with the late Uta Hagen, with Sam Waterston, and voice with Joan Lader. His directing credits include Jennifer Camp’s Natural History, (Walnut Street Theatre), LIFE (x) 3 (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), and Outcry (NAATCO), along with Hair, Lend Me a Tenor, The Drawer Boy, Once in a Lifetime, Waiting for Lefty and others in various regional and stock theatres across the country.
Francis Jue (Kassim) returns to The Muny, where he has appeared in Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Little Mermaid, Damn Yankees, Miss Saigon, Peter Pan, The King & I,and Mame. On Broadway, Francis originated the role of Bun Foo in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Other Broadway credits: M. Butterfly and Pacific Overtures. Francis won Obie and Lucille Lortel Awards (plus Drama Desk and Drama League nominations) for Yellow Face. Other favorite NYC credits include Love’s Labour’s Lost, Coraline, Falsettoland, A Language of Their Own, No Foreigners Beyond This Point, Hamlet,and King Lear. Francis has won regional theatre awards for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), Cabaret, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Into the Woods, The Illusion, Pacific Overtures, Miss Saigon,and Red. TV: “The Good Wife,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Law & Order.” Film Debut: Joyful Noise. Francis Jue, At Home on the Stage Robin De Jesus (Aladdin) is a two time Tony® Award Nominee for the Broadway Musicals In The Heights and La Cage Aux Folles. He was also seen in the Broadway musical Rent. Robin has worked at Papermill Playhouse, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, McCarter, The Public, NYTW, The Barrow Group and more. He has appeared on TV in “Law and Order: SVU” and “How to Make It In America.” He is best known for his role in the movie Camp. Other films include Gun Hill Road, Fat Girls, Pet the Goat and the upcoming films Elliot Loves, Bert, Arnie’s Guide to Adventure and Hairbrained, in which he stars alongside Brendan Fraser and Alex Wolff.
John Tartaglia (Genie) is known to millions of families around the world as “Johnny” from Disney’s Johnny and the Sprites, for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series. John made his Tony® Award nominated Broadway debut in Avenue Q, creating the roles of Princeton and Rod. John was also seen on Broadway as Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast and originated the role of Pinocchio in Shrek: the Musical. He joined PBS’s Sesame Street as a puppeteer at only 16 years old, where he performed for over 10 seasons and continues to guest star. Other television appearances include “Ugly Betty,” “The Today Show,” and several children’s series. Films include starring in the upcoming Hotel Arthritis. He will be hosting a new weekly Broadway show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. John is a recipient of the Theatre World Award, Backstage Award, and a Broadway.com Award. He recently conceived, hosted and directed Jim Henson’s Musical World featuring the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. Johns voice can also be heard on several commercial campaigns. John’s latest project, ImaginOcean, is currently on international tour. While off-Broadway at New World Stages, ImaginOcean was nominated for Unique Theatrical Experience by the Drama Desk Awards. It’s currently being developed with the Jim Henson Company for television utilizing their revolutionary Digital Puppetry Studios system. John is currently serving as resident director for Avenue Q, playing off-Broadway at New World Stages. He will be directing the upcoming Broadway musical, Because of Winn Dixie, written by Nell Benjamin with music by Duncan Shiek. Jason Graae (Omar) has starred on Broadway in A Grand Night For Singing, Falsettos, Stardust, Snoopy!, and Do Black Patent Leather Shows Really Reflect Up? Off- Broadway shows include Forever Plaid; Olympus on My Mind; All in the Timing; and Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (Drama Desk Nomination-Best Actor in a Musical) and many more. Jason Made his Metropolitan Opera House debut as a featured vocalist in Twyla Tharp’s Everlast with the American Ballet Theatre. He has performed his one-man show all over the country, and has been included in Time Out NY’s Top 10 Cabaret Shows. On television, Jason’s appearances include “Six Feet Under,” “Rude Awakening,” “Friends,” “Frasier,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Living Single,” “Caroline in the City” and “Providence”. For 5 1/2 years, Jason was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun for Lucky Charms Cereal. Curtis Holbrook (Iago) received the 2012 Kevin Kline Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as Cosmo Brown in the Muny’s production of Singin’ in the Rain. Other roles at The Muny include Ren McCormack in Footloose and Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me Kate. On Broadway, Curtis most recently recreated the role of Action in the Broadway revival of West Side Story. His other Broadway credits include: Xanadu (Sonny Malone), All Shook Up (Dean Hyde),The Addams Family, Taboo, The Boy From Oz, Follies, Fosse and Footloose. Off Broadway: Frog Kiss (NYMF-Outstanding Individual Performance Award), Saved (Playwrights Horizon), Radiant Baby (Public Theater). Regional: It Shoulda Been You (George Street Playhouse: David Hyde Pierce, Dir.) Film: Hairspray and Across the Universe. TV: “Smash,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “All My Children,” “As The World Turns” and “Sesame Street.” Eddie Korbich (Babkak) returns to The Muny where he was last featured in the 2003 production of Show Boat. Broadway credits include The Little Mermaid, The Drowsy Chaperone (Drama Desk Nominee), After The Night, Wicked, Seussical, Carousel (Lincoln Center), Singin’ In The Rain and Sweeney Todd (Circle in the Square). Off-Broadway he appeared in Assassins, Godspell, The Gifts of the Magi, Flora The Red Menace, A Little Night Music, and Eating Raoul. Regional credits include The Gamester at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Dracula at North Shore Music Theatre, 3hree at the Ahmanson, George M! (George), Tintypes (Charlie), and Man of La Mancha (Sancho). National tours include Showboat (Frank) directed by Harold Prince. Television: guest-starring roles on “Law & Order,” “New York Undercover,” and “Out Of The Box.” Cartoon fans may recognize his voice as a regular on Nickelodeon’s “Doug and PB & J Otter.” He may also be seen in the feature films Jennifer 8 and Quiz Show. Eddie received the 2000 Obie Award for his performance in Taking A Chance On Love at the York Theatre. He is also the voice of TiVO. Ken Page (Sultan) was last seen at The Muny as King Titan in the 2011 production of The Little Mermaid. His New York credits include: Broadway: Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls (1976 All-Black Revival), Lion in The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Original Cast 1978, 1988 revival), Cats (Old Deuteronomy-Original Cast), It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues (Lead Player); Off-Broadway: Lincoln Center Theatre: Maurice in Happiness, etc. International: West End: Father in Children Of Eden (Original Cast), Rev. Montgomary in My One & Only, Cats(Film-Adelphi Theatre). Paris: Harlem Swing- Ain’t Misbehavin; Canada: Theatre Royal Manitoba: Chuck in Grumpy Old Men-Musical. FILM: Torch Song Trilogy (Murray), Dreamgirls (Max Washington),The Nightmare Before Christmas (V.O. Oogie Boogie) All Dogs Go To Heaven, (V.O King Gator) etc. Television: Several credits. Awards: New York-Theatre World Award (Guys & Dolls), Drama Desk Award–(Best Actor-Ain’t Misbehavin), Drama League Honoree, Kevin Kline Award (Jesus Christ Superstar-Herod), Joseph Jefferson Award Nominee (Wizard of Oz), Kevin Kline Award Nominee (Thenardier- Les Miserables, V.O Audrey II -Little Shop of Horrors). Other Directing: San Diego Rep (Storyville), Fantasticks (L.A. Ovation Award), To Sir With Love (Musical), Ain’t Misbehavin, Nightlife (Westbeth Theatre N.Y, etc.). From July 16 -22, Page can be seen as Marty in The Muny Premiere Of Dreamgirls with Tony® and Grammy® Award-winner Jennifer Holliday reprising her legendary Broadway performance of Effie White, and featuring Demetria McKinney as Deena, Jenelle Lynn Randall as Lorrell, Christopher Jackson as Curtis, Milton Craig Nealy as Jimmy, Karla Mosely as Michelle, and Tommar Wilson as C.C.
Samantha Massell (Jasmine) is thrilled to return to The Muny where she most recently played Ursula in Bye Bye Birdie. On Broadway, Samantha was seen in Baz Luhrmann’s production of La Boheme and the 2003 Tony®Awards telecast. Other Muny credits include Kiss Me Kate, Show Boat, Singin’ in the Rain, Sound of Music, and Titanic. Samantha recently graduated from the University of Michigan’s musical theatre program and her favorite U of M credits include Natalie in Next to Normal, Meg in Little Women, and Sheila in Hair.
The remaining show line-up is:
Dreamgirls July 16 – 22
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor®Dreamcoat July 23 – 29
Pirates! (or, Gilbert & Sullivan Plunder’d) July 30 – August 5
The King and I August 6 – 12
For more information, call (314) 361-1900 or visitwww.muny.org.
I was granted an all-access pass to photograph backstage at The Muny for my photography collection at the Library of Congress, the Lia Chang Asian Pacific American Theater Photography Portfolio. Check out the slideshow below.
Special thanks to Larry Pry, and the cast and crew of The Muny’s Aladdin for a grand weekend at the theater.
Other Articles by Lia Chang
Thom Sesma, Francis Jue, Robin de Jesus and John Tartaglia set for MUNY’s Aladdin, July 5-13
Thom Sesma is the keynote speaker for the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) at the Mary Pickford Theater on May 17
Performing Arts Images from the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection on Display at the Library of Congress to Celebrate APA Heritage Month
Photos: Yellow Fever Playwright Rick Shiomi Explores New Territory with An All-Female Cast
Tony Award – winning Playwright Terrence McNally to be Honored at Westport Country Playhouse Annual Gala, September 24, 2012
Multimedia: Exclusive photos and video of Disney’s The Lion King Las Vegas -In the Makeup Chair with Thom Sesma
Photos: BD Wong, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon, Tom Viola at “Passing It On: An Evening of Mentorship to Benefit Rosie’s Theater Kids”
Richard Thomas and Boyd Gaines to star in An Enemy of the People at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre during Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2012-2013 Season
Jarlath Conroy set for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, June 12–July 15, 2012 at Sidney Harman Hall in Washington D.C.
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (3pm) with Andre Bishop, Mary Beth Hurt, Jennifer Lim, Angela Lin, Philip Kan Gotanda, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders, and more
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (8pm) with Oskar Eustis, Patti LuPone, Lisa Emery, Ann Harada, Paolo Montalban, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Henry Stram, Richard Thomas, John Weidman and more
Photos: In Rehearsal with Director Bartlett Sher and the cast of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan
David Henry Hwang Set as Signature Theatre’s Residency One Playwright for the 2012-2013 Season
C.J. Wilson navigates armor and swordplay in Signature Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play
Photos: In Rehearsal with BD Wong at Dixon Place for Live Concert Recording of Herringbone
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Oskar Eustis, BD Wong, Brian d’Arcy James, Francis Jue, Jennifer Lim and Leigh Silverman at WNYC’s The Greene Space
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