Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: ABSINTHE L.A. Brings Sin City to Los Angeles, and It's an Instant Hit

The Farquhars. All photos by Erik Kabik

It used to be true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But not anymore. For the next five weeks, LA audiences will get a taste of Sin City right here in our own backyard, thanks to Spiegelworld’s in-your-face adults-only production, Absinthe L.A.

The raunchy spin on an intimate Cirque-style burlesque (if such a show were bent, twisted, served up in the back room of a 1920’s speakeasy, and run through a smoky 3am wringer) has played to sellout crowds on the grounds outside Caesars Palace for nearly six years and shows no sign of slowing down. It is the most talked about entertainment on the strip and the perfect destination if you want to get a full-on Vegas experience.

Last night’s opening downtown at L.A. Live proved that local audiences are just as crazy about it as those lost in the casino haze of the desert. It’s a show that asks viewers to let loose and indulge in the delights of the flesh. (You can look but can’t touch) Sexy, raw, and loaded with nearly a dozen acts whose jaw-dropping talents will blow you away, it’s one of those unforgettable theatrical events you should experience at least once in your lifetime.

The evening is orchestrated by The Gazillionaire, a master of ceremonies and lounge lizard whose style of comedy purposely hits below the belt. Expect politically incorrect jokes that are so wrong they’re hilarious. He makes no apologies for his X-rated material so if you're easily offended or uncomfortable with sexual humor, better have those drinks before the show. You’re going to need them. If he can see you in the audience, you’re fair game, so choose your seat location wisely when you purchase your tickets.

Seating is in-the-round. A small nine-foot in diameter stage at the center is where all of the circus acts take place, with an additional satellite staging area for the Gazillionaire that sits up at the far end. The extraordinary skill level of the artists and their unique combination of talents is astonishing. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also beautiful, cut to perfection, and choreographed for maximum emotional impact. A veritable smorgasbord of sensual delights, there is something for everyone.

The Twizzlers

When I saw the show in Vegas last spring, it was the roller skating brother & sister duo of Billy and Emily England, known as The Twizzlers, who were the highlight of the show.  Their act is a dangerous and thrilling spectacle set to Hozier’s Take Me To Church and I’m happy to report they’ve brought it to LA for this engagement. It’s the kind of performance where a fraction of an inch means the difference between walking away or being driven away in an ambulance, and definitely one of Absinthe’s wow moments.

The Flying Farquhars' gorgeous aerial pas de deux feels like Romeo and Juliet in flight while The Lost Boys from Eastern Europe perform feats of Herculean strength you can’t believe are humanly possible. Max Matterhorn’s slow motion pole balancing is achingly beautiful and those with a secret penchant for bondage will find an act just for their viewing pleasure.

The men of Los Dos Tacos perform a breathtaking horizontal bar routine that looks like they are about to be propelled into the audience. Bodies fly, hands twist, and they’ve got you on the edge of your seat. Add more beauty in the air, the Girl in the Bubble, a trio of acrobats known as the Silicone Valley Girls, a stripper who can shake a set of pasties with the power of double torpedoes, aerial school girls, an hysterical comedy acro act, a sexy singer, and a chair stacking opening that reaches the top of the Spiegeltent, and all creative bases are covered. (Acts subject to change)

Absinthe L.A. is a show with an attitude. Full of Vegas vulgarity and genuine artistry, it is the must-see event of the spring!

ABSINTHE L.A.
March 22 - April 23, 2017
Spiegelworld Tent at L.A. LIVE’s Event Deck
1005 Chick Hearn Ct., Los Angeles CA 90015
Tickets start at $49
www.absinthela.com

The Gazillionaire

The Lost Boys

The Silicone Valley Girls

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Not Man Apart's PARADISE LOST is a Visceral World

Jones Talmadge (Satan), Anne-Marie Talmadge (Michael), Alex Garland (Beelzebub), Kendall Johnson (Raphael), Elisa Rosin (Gabriel), Moses Norton (Belial),  and Janine Montag (Moloch).
All photos by Anthony Roldan

The purpose of all theatre - regardless of its individual form, style, or manner of presentation - is communication. It must be able to reach an audience before it can even begin to challenge them, or change them, or even simply make them feel something. If it does not, it will have failed in its all-important task, for without that two-way bond, the artists on stage end up performing in a vacuum and the audience quickly loses interest.

There’s not a chance in hell that an audience member could fail to be engaged in Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble’s latest new work, Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny. The company has found a tantalizing niche with its athletically rich dance, movement & sensory exploration of stories that literally leap off the stage into the stratosphere. This latest production pushes that unique concept to new heights as it invokes the mighty forces of good and evil in a struggle of epic proportions.

The piece runs 65 minutes in length and is adapted and handsomely directed by NMA’s co-artistic director & longtime company member Jones (Welsh) Talmadge. It is performed without dialogue, but combines dance, movement, music, aerial acrobatics, and interactive video projections, to create a theatrical world that never stops moving. The visual design by J-Walt Adamczyk (who also plays Father God) is dazzling, with psychedelic images that morph and mature like a living breathing character, all generated by cast members on stage.

Based on John Miltons classic poetic narrative about Satan’s banishment from Heaven, and his subsequent role in Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, it is a visceral interpretation of the story that has, at its heart, a modernistic point of view. As gender roles today come sharply under scrutiny, this version of the story honors Milton’s underlying themes but does so by making fresh decisions in the way it carries out its story.

Leslie Charles Roy Jr. (Adam) and Alina Bolshakova (Eve)

For example, here it is Adam (
Leslie Charles Roy Jr.) who is tempted by Satan and eats of the forbidden fruit, then convinces Eve (Alina Bolshakova) to do the same. This simple reversal is a bold choice and one that encapsulates Paradise Lost’s message by disrupting what is expected in order to break open the possibilities of what lies beyond.


Another way the production disrupts the predictable is by inserting a fantasy sequence ripped from the era of Leave it to Beaver, but with a twist. A stereotypical 1950’s husband and wife are having dinner in their happy sitcom kitchen but the scene turns sinister when daddy doesn’t like his meal and his terrified spouse ends up the victim of domestic abuse. That the characters are played by fallen angels Sin (Laura Covelli) and Death (James Bane) makes it even more macabre, as does their behavior’s resulting effect on Adam and Eve.

The cast is a ridiculously talented group of artists who make the rigorous physical aspects of the play appear effortless. Whether engaged in forceful battle scenes or moments of abject peace and beauty, each one burrows into the story from his or her point of view and contributes to an emotional journey that elicits great rewards.

None are more seductively wrought than Satan himself, powerfully played by Talmadge in a striking performance precariously balanced on the edge. If you watch the effect he has on every other character on stage, you’ll come away with an even deeper understanding of how connected we all really are. You’ll also see how nothing is as black and white as it seems. He may be a brute but there is beauty in his torturous descent into hell, which is choreographed as a muscular display of aerial gymnastics with the artist suspended from chains while a cataclysmic panorama erupts behind him. It is both ugly and devastatingly gorgeous at the same time.

The original score by Bernie Sirelson, Alysia Michelle James and Elisa Rosin is a blend of techno pop, rock, and electronic music that ranges from the majestic to the subtle, with a few angelic vocals thrown in for good measure.

Sound, lighting, and costume design (created by Niki Amato, John E.D. Bass, and Ashphord Jacoway, respectively) further enhance the multi-dimensional quality of the play as all the separate elements coalesce into a single pulsing heartbeat.

With Paradise Lost, Not Man Apart continues its evolution as a company while passionately exploring the connections between humanity and art, actor and audience, individual and the world. Making theatre relevant with such sophistication is a special kind of brilliance. More, please.

PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY
March 10 - April 2, 2017
Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble
Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
www.notmanapart.com

Alex Garland (Beelzebub), Moses Norton (Belial), Kendall Johnson (Raphael),
Joseph Baca (Abdiel), and Elisa Rosin (Gabriel)

J-Walt Adamczyk (Father God), Zach Davidson (Son of God), and
Marguerite French (Mother God)

Elisa Rosin (Gabriel), Anne-Marie Talmadge (Michael), Alex Garland (Beelzebub),
Kendall Johnson (Raphael), Moses Norton (Belial), Janine Montag (Moloch),
 Jones Talmadge (Satan), and Joseph Baca (Abdiel)

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: CIRCUS 1903 Recreates the Golden Age of Circus

Jessica Spalis and Peanut the Elephant. All photos by Mark Turner

If Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had run away from home and found this traveling circus instead of Professor Marvel and his crystal ball, she might never have gotten swept up in a twister and landed in Munchkinland. Instead, she might have become part of a new family, the kind that traveled the dust bowl in the early part of the twentieth century and instilled a sense of wonder in every child who was lucky enough to hear that the circus was coming to town.

Such is the world of Circus 1903 - The Golden Age of Circus now raising its tent nightly at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. It only plays through February 19th and that isn't nearly long enough for this exquisitely crafted show from the producers of The Illusionists (Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, and MagicSpace Entertainment). Mesmerizing music, costumes that evoke the authenticity of the period, lighting and sets that transport you out of the daily grind into the fantastical...I would see every performance that plays in LA and still not have gotten enough of it.

The allure of the impossible and the graceful artistry of performers who have spent a lifetime developing their skills come together in a whimsically nostalgic presentation. The international cast includes some of the finest artists you'll ever see within their individual disciplines. From the teeterboard expertise of The Flying Fins, to the foot juggling act of the sexy Rossi Brothers, to the exciting showmanship of The Great Gaston - who juggles clubs faster than you can believe possible - it's a show you'll never forget.

The Flying Fins - Artur Ivankovich, Petter Vatermark, and AJ Saltalamacchia.

One of the unique characteristics that sets it apart from other circus entertainments is that the character each performer plays is so human it is hard not to fall in love with them. Florian Blummel, the German Cycling Cyclone, circles the stage in an amazing display of "bicycle ballet" with a twinkle in his eye and a look on his face of complete joy. Duo Flash (Yevgeniy Dashkivskyy and Yefrem Bitkine from the Ukraine) combines intricately choreographed acrobatic skills and a lilting sense of humor while making what they do look so easy. They're like your funny, friendly next door neighbors who just bounced by for a visit.

Overhead you'll find beauty in the air with Lucky Moon, Elena Gatilova's aerial ballet on a suspended hoop. The luminous artist offers an emotional performance so affecting it will bring tears to your eyes, or at least make you believe in romance again. Les Incredibles, the husband and wife duo of Anny Laplante and Andrei Kalesnikau perform a passionate and dangerous aerial act that relies on strength, trust, and absolute precision, while The Lopez Family on the highwire defies the laws of gravity without even using a safety net. Rola bola man, Mikhail Sozonov takes balance to new heights in another dizzying demonstration twenty years in the making. The control these performers have over their bodies is remarkable.

The aerial beauty of Elena Gatilova as Lucky Moon

The star of the side show is contortionist Senayet Asefa Amare, known as The Elastic Dislocationist, who can literally break her body in half and have the two sections move independently of each other. I've never seen anything like it and found it to be an unexpectedly beautiful and liquid performance that moves like a dance.

A number of wonderful surprises are built into the show that also reinvent typical circus conventions in an entirely new, highly-imaginative way. The puppeteers who created the National Theatre's production of War Horse have brought to life a massive mother and baby elephant who steal the show with their charms. Their eyes are so expressive and they move with such elegant ease that you'd almost think they were real.

A full-stage transformation from prologue to big top by the end of Act I, which includes the raising of the tent and revelation of the big top performers, is absolutely breathtaking and an incredible way to propel the audience into intermission. This circus has magic in its bones and good old family fun at its heart.

Overseeing it all is Willy Whipsnade (David Williamson), the charismatic and likable Ringmaster who resembles Sam Elliott and has the actor's same ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. He communicates volumes with only a raise of the eyebrow or a sideways smirk. The children he invites onstage into his act have no idea that they are about to provide some of the funniest moments in the show but, just when you think it's all about the comedy, Williamson turns it right around and delivers an arrow to the heart. This back and forth exchange between humor and pathos runs throughout the show giving it depth and richness that makes the whole experience something very special.

Gorgeous in every detail, Circus 1903 overdelivers on the promise of a grand time for the whole family. Believe me, you want to see this show!


CIRCUS 1903: The Golden Age of Circus
February 14 – 19, 2017
Hollywood Pantages
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
www.hollywoodpantages.com 

Francois Borie - The Great Gaston

Mikhail Sozonov - The Sensational Sozonov

Queenie the Elephant

Las Lopez (Johan and Jonatan Lopez and Maria Jose Pontigo) on the highwire

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Center Theatre Group and Fun Home Announce Choir Competition!


Heads up singers - want to win tickets to see Fun Home at the Ahmanson? Center Theatre Group is holding a cool choir competition in conjunction with the upcoming national tour of Fun Home, which begins performances at the Ahmanson Theatre on February 21st!


All you need to do is record a video of your group singing Fun Home’s signature song, “Ring of Keys” for a chance to win tickets for your whole group to see the show. To make it even easier, they have provided sheet music for a 4-part a cappella vocal arrangement that you may use, or you can come up with your own. It's totally up to you how creative you'd like to be. (Download sheet music HERE)


Here are all details:


WHO: All individual and non-professional choirs (clubs, high schools, colleges)


HOW: Videos must be submitted as YouTube links to RingofKeys@CTGLA.org

Video length should be at least two mins, but no more than five mins. Introduction of your group should be no more than one minute. All videos will be posted on Center Theatre Group’s YouTube Channel beginning Monday, February 27 and ending Friday, March 3. The video that receives the most likes will be the contest winner. The winner will be contacted by March 8.

WHEN:

  • Friday, February 24: Final submission date; all videos uploaded to YouTube
  • Monday, February 27: YouTube judging begins
  • Friday, March 1: YouTube judging ends
  • Wednesday, March 8: Winner(s) notified; Winner will be announced on social media and via a press release
  • Wednesday, March 15: Winner attends performance with post-performance company meet and greet
CONTEST RULES

**
Contest Update: The deadline for submissions has been extended until March 10th. Winners will receive tickets to the March 29th performance.
  • All submissions must be received online.
  • Videos must be submitted as YouTube links to RingofKeys@CTGLA.org
  • Submission date is February 24.
  • Winners will receive tickets the Wednesday, March 15.
  • If they are individuals, they will receive a pair of tickets
  •  If they are group, they will receive one ticket per participant. Number of group tickets cannot exceed 50 tickets.
  • All videos submitted will become property of Center Theatre Group.
For a little additional inspiration, here is the cast's performance of “Ring of Keys” from the 2015 Tony Awards and below it, a video by Top Shelf Vocal. Good luck everyone! For more information about the Sing Out “Ring of Keys” Contest, please visit
CenterTheatreGroup.org/SingOutRingofKeys



The cast of the National Tour of Fun Home

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Photo Recap: LOST IN THE STARS, Presented by LACO and CAP UCLA

Lost in the Stars. All photos by Reed Hutchinson

The January 28 & 29th performances of Lost in the Stars, presented by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (and CAP UCLA) as the culmination of LACO’s Lift Every Voice series, will go down as one of the memorable highlights of my theatregoing in LA. Even now, a week later, the powerful images stir emotions and serve as a reminder of the sensitivity of the artists’ work, their incredible musicianship, and their ability to communicate the message of Kurt Weill’s deeply moving piece with passion and sincerity. www.laco.org

Justin Hopkins (Stephen Kumalo) and Lauren Michelle (Irina)

Issachah Savage (Leader) with the Chorus

Justin Hophins (Stephen Kumalo) and Zuri Adele (Grace Kumalo)

The Chorus of Lost in the Stars

L-R: Joel Baptiste Muepo (Alex), Zuri Adele (Mrs. Mkize) and Justin
Hopkins (Stephen Kumalo)

L-R: Will Bond (James Jarvis), Stephen Duff Webber (Arthur Jarvis)
and Jonah Verdon

Joel Baptiste Muepo (Alex) and Justin Hopkins (Stephen Kumalo) 

The choruses of Lost in the Stars

L-R: Angelo Johnson (Johannes/chorister), Melanie Collins
(Linda) and Daniel J. Ozan (chorister)

LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducting the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra during rehearsal

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review: An Elegant Revival of THE LAST FIVE YEARS Soars in La Mirada

Natalie Storrs and Devin Archer. All photos by Michael Lamont

Jason Robert Brown’s
The Last Five Years is the kind of musical you often find produced in small theaters and black boxes. Written for a cast of two, it can be done very simply without much in the way of a set or props making it a popular choice for those with a limited budget or other technical constraints.

The story follows a relationship from beginning to end in a series of alternating solo scenes – two different perspectives with two opposing timelines. Through Jamie’s (Devin Archer) eyes, we see it grow from first blush to bitter separation while through Cathy’s (Natalie Storrs) we watch it play out in reverse, from breakup to beginning. Only at a single point in the middle do their stories converge and we see them happy together before they move on again in the direction of their own narrative. As you’d expect, it is an emotional roller coaster no matter which way you look at it.

McCoy Rigby Entertainment and La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts have reimagined this gem of a musical in a wonderfully creative way and the result is truly something special. If you are one of the few who has not seen the show before, or if you’ve only seen it produced on a small scale, this is memorable work you don’t want to miss.

They have a much larger stage and a greater set of resources at their disposal so the bar is already set higher. But it isn’t about just making things bigger. It’s about choosing wisely and making sure those choices in design and direction come together seamlessly so as not to interfere with the heartbreak at the center of the piece.

What this revival of The Last Five Years does, so beautifully, is breathe. That contrast between ease and Jamie’s mounting suffocation and Cathy’s frustration, delivers an even more powerful emotional journey than usual.


Director Nick DeGruccio and his technical trifecta – Stephen Gifford (scenic design), Steven Young (lighting), and Keith Skretch (video) – surround Jamie and Cathy with the story of their life in a way that never overpowers them but still gives the audience a window into their world on a grand scale. Well-chosen, often simple, visual concepts, like a larger-than-life photo panel display that changes throughout the show and a gorgeous backdrop of Central Park behind the couple in a moving rowboat, deepen the show’s impact without adding clutter. Stars become miniature comets streaking across a celestial canvas and rose petals fall like rain before morphing into fireworks in a shared climactic moment. Their joy and heartache becomes even more fragile with so much “air” around them, and DeGruccio weaves it all together elegantly.


His staging reveals as much about their relationship as what Brown has written. One of the most ironic moments is the transition from Cathy’s audition to a public reading of Jamie’s book. It happens without a word but the subtext behind the purposeful upstaging is clear. DeGruccio also positions the non-active character on stage in separate parallel scenes which makes the handoff from one to the other seem effortless.

From a musical standpoint, Brown’s score is a tremendous showcase for the two actors, who must have great emotional range, a penchant for comedy, and voices that can do justice to his soaring melodies. Luckily both Storrs and Archer fit the bill. She has the tougher road as Cathy because of the way the show is constructed but Storrs is lovably awkward and self-deprecating within her neediness.

The story is based on Brown’s own breakup from his first wife so it is natural that her character is seen in a less sympathetic light, especially at first. Archer has the audience on his side from the beginning for who can resist seeing a person over the moon and falling in love. He is charming and charismatic, with a natural gift for comedy. He is also vocally compelling and prone to making delightfully unexpected choices.

Brown’s arrangements capture the poignancy of relationship discord, and the longing that results from it, in the luscious sound of the strings. Musical director Brent Crayon brings an instinctual level of awareness to the material and, quite literally, makes it sing. Few in L.A. can play the piano with the kind of finesse that he can and I’ve not heard this JRB score interpreted better ever. Whether the song is delicate or propulsive, comical or tortured, he manages to bring together the musicians and singers to create an unforgettable musical experience. Translation: you’ll be wrecked emotionally by the time the curtain falls.

La Mirada Theatre’s revival of The Last Five Years is a breathtaking production that balances subtlety with sweeping passion. Its arrow aims right for the heart and lands with eloquent precision over and over again. Bring tissues.

THE LAST 5 YEARS
January 20 – February 12, 2017
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd.
La Mirada, CA 90638
www.lamiradatheatre.com




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Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Love Transcends Limitations in Casa 0101's ALADDIN Dual Language Edition

L-R: Valeria Maldonado, Rosa Navarrete, Sebastian Gonzalez and
Daniel Martinez. All photos by Luis Gaudi

Love transcends the limitations of language in Casa 0101’s charming production of Disney’s Aladdin Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual, and that uplifting message is a takeaway that never loses its luster. The simple story of Aladdin (Daniel Martinez) and his magic lamp overcoming the villainous Jafar (Omar Mata), with the help of a jovial genie (Lewis Powell III) and his loyal pet monkey (Sebastian Gonzalez), has become a family favorite, thanks to the popularity of Disney’s 1992 animated film.

This version pairs Alan Menken’s classic songs with a newly-adapted book by Jim Luigs and José Cruz González to create a fresh spin on the story that is tailor-made for Los Angeles. Casa 0101’s staging is bright and full of life, with energetic production numbers and creative undisguised stage magic. There is pageantry, romance, and plenty of humor packed into the 85-minute show which is performed by a cast of twenty each night (the four leading characters are double-cast). And, as the title suggests, there is a twist.

The people of Agrabah are under a spell. Those in the palace can only speak Spanish while those in the streets can only speak English. So when Princess Jazmin (Valeria Maldonado) runs away and meets Aladdin in the market place they are only able to understand each other with the help of their translators (who happen to be their pets). For the sake of the audience, a trio of Royal Translators (Diana Castrillon, Blanca Espinoza, and Shanara Sanders) also provide narration with other characters adding further explanation. The result is a story that is easy to follow regardless of whether you speak both, or only one, of the languages.

Valeria Maldonado (Jazmin) and Daniel Martinez (Aladdin)

That’s an important distinction for those who have championed the show, which is being presented by Casa 0101 Theater and TNH Productions in association with the office of Councilmember Gilbert A. Cedillo. This is a true community effort meant to increase opportunities for underserved members of the surrounding area and to provide a tangible method of expression for those who wish to pursue a career in the arts.

To see them in action was inspiring on many levels, not the least of which was watching how they inspired potential donors after the show to pledge funds to help others attend who might otherwise not be able to see the show on their own. Other theaters may do this but I haven’t seen it done in quite this way before.

Following the performance, producers came out and made a quick pitch for why their work was so important. Using a dry erase board to record the pledges, they then asked if anyone in the audience was willing to commit to different sponsorship levels. Within the span of five minutes, they received over $4500. Now that’s impressive.

But what I found even more encouraging was that they didn’t just ask for money, they made the case for why it was so important. They succeeded in getting people invested in their vision by showing why their work is relevant and good for the community. And the community responded.

The joy of theatre, and the whole new world it can open up, is on full display in Casa 0101’s Aladdin. Seeing it made me happy, and that’s what I call a job well done.
*        *        *        *        *        *        *

Aladdin Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual is directed by Rigo Tejeda and produced by Abel Alvarado, Felipe Agredano, Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla, Rigo Tejeda & Conrad Terrazas, with musical direction by Caroline Benzon and choreography by Tania Possick. Book is by Jim Luigs and José Cruz González, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, lyric translation by Walterio Pezqueira. The music is adapted, arranged and orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle.

Lewis Powell III as the Genie

Jason David (Iago) and Omar Mata (Jafar)

Shanara Sanders, Blanca Espinoza and Diana Castrillon with cast of Aladdin

Henry Madrid (Sultan) and Valeria Maldonado (Jazmin)

The Ensemble of Disney's Aladdin - Dual Language Edition

ALADDIN
January 13 - February 19, 2017
Casa 0101 Theater
2102 E. First Street (at St. Louis Street)
Boyle Heights, CA 90033
www.casa0101.org

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