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Step aside Broadway stars – the star students of St. Ephrem School, located in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, performed a new rendition of the Disney classic Aladdin last weekend, Jan. 13-15.
The elementary school, better known for its past and present sports programs, has embraced the arts through seasonal musical concerts, the church choir and school musical instrument band. But it has never had a theater program until now. They introduced the new Drama Club into its afterschool programming in September 2016 and decided to put on Aladdin, Jr., under the leadership and guidance of director Susan Huizinga, creator of the Theater on the Go! company.
Thirty-four students, ranging from eight years old in third grade to thirteen years old in eighth grade, practiced their lines and choreography twice a week since mid-September. There they also perfected the lyrics of the iconic songs like “Arabian Nights” and “Friend Like Me,” and even learned the Broadway-adaptation’s hits like “These Palace Walls” and “Proud of Your Boy.” In the final week, they came together for fours hours everyday immediately after school for run-throughs.
“It was fun and it took a lot of hard work, but in the end it paid off,” said eighth grader Jason Daloul, who played the lead of Aladdin in two of the four shows.
The cast put on four shows – two nights and two matinees – to showcase their talents to both the academic and local communities. Though the kids were not even born when the animated movie was released in 1992, the story still remained the same – clever “street-rat” Aladdin befriending the wish-granting Genie, defeating the evil Jafar and winning over Princess Jasmine’s heart for an all-around happy ending.
Original stage designs also brought the Disney classic to life, thanks to the help of volunteer parents who hand painted the backdrops and scenes of Agrabah. Parents also helped out with some of the extravagant costumes that sparkled and shined every time the spotlights hit the beading and reflective bands. Additionally, to raise awareness for their first ever production, Ephremites posted flyers throughout the neighborhood, and designed and sold long-sleeved t-shirts.
“Make way, make way for the students of St. Ephrem!” said Bay Ridgeite John Eugenis, who heard about the musical from a friend and attended opening night. “All of the hard work and dedication that the students and their parents put into the show was truly admirable.”
Kenny Ayala, whose third grade daughter Ariana participated in the play, won the 50/50 raffle of $210 during the intermission of Sunday’s matinee performance. But upon receiving the monetary prize, he immediately donated it back to the school.
With the audience giving standing ovations and loud cheers after each of the shows, it looks like the Drama Club will be a permanent fixture at St. Ephrem’s for a long time to come.
“St. Ephrem’s performance is a great example of how important it is to invest in the arts, as it is a creative outlet for students of all ages and backgrounds,” said Eugenis. “I can’t wait to attend the next musical!”