by Jonathan Weaver
Hannah Younkins has plenty of experience backstage, but it’s watching she has to get used to.
Hannah – 18 – makes her directorial debut during Armstrong Community Theatre’s summer children’s production of “Aladdin and his Wonderful, Magical Lamp.” But, she’s confident she can lead the 37-child cast this weekend.
“I’ve been around plenty of other shows though to know what a director does,” Hannah said.
The newly-graduated student from Freeport Area High, Hannah has acted in more than 20 productions. She still remembers her first show with the community theatre – “Cinderella’s Glass Slipper” in 2006. Hannah will attend Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. this fall.
“There was a vacancy and some people from the theatre thought, ‘Maybe it’s a good idea if we asked Hannah to do it,’ Hannah said.
To prepare for her latest role, Hannah read the ‘Aladdin’ folk tale from “One Thousand and One Nights” – not the Disney movie version.
“It’s closer to the original folk tale of ‘Aladdin’ rather than Disney’s version – like instead of a blue genie voiced by Robin Williams, we have a couple genies,” Hannah said.
In addition to that change, Aladdin’s mischievous monkey is named ‘Alakazam’ (played by six-year-old Calise Czekanski of Ford City, who makes her acting debut), not ‘Abu’ and the villain is a magician named ‘Jammal’ (played by seventh-grader Donovan McDonald of Kittanning), not ‘Jafar.’
“But it does follow a similar story,” Hannah added.
Ally Velcko of Ford City will be acting as the lead role of “Aladdin” and agreed the theatrical version is different from the movie.
“But, this one’s still a whole lot of fun. This show has a lot more funny aspects to it than the Disney one,” Velcko said.
Velcko will perform in her last children’s theatre performance due to her graduation into Ford City High School this August. Performers range from those who completed kindergarten until those who completed eighth grade.
Velcko has performed in the junior-senior high musical the past two years, and played ‘Winthrop’ in the production of “The Music Man” in April, but hasn’t acted with the community theatre since ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ in 2010 –consequently one of the last Armstrong Community Theater children’s production held in Ford City.
With ‘Aladdin’ being held at Kittanning Sr. High, Velcko will have the rare opportunity of performing on both the Ford City and Kittanning High School stages. She said the Kittanning stage is larger and has improved lighting.
“This was sorta hard to get used to because I’m used to Ford City. It is a lot different,” Velcko said.
However, rehearsals were more laid-back due to the children involved – including her younger sister, Tonya.
Megan McLafferty of Worthington, who plays “Princess Jasmine” enjoys hanging out with Velcko backstage. McLafferty will be a seventh grader at Kittanning Jr. High this fall, and enjoys her role in the musical.
“I think everybody wants the lead parts – you want lines, you want songs – I was pretty lucky to get ‘Jasmine’ and I’m really happy with my part,” McLafferty said. “I’m a little nervous about my dances – I can never get them right – but I think I’m OK with my lines and my songs.”
Like in the movie, “Princess Jasmine” tries to hide her identity from “Aladdin” while in the marketplace with her handmaidens – this time as ‘Yolanda.’
Hannah’s mother and assistant director Emily Younkins offered a few words of advice to her daughter during Tuesday’s tech week intermission.
“The most important thing is to let your cast have fun. We need a certain amount of discipline because we have to put on a good show- the audience is paying to come see this – but the important thing is to let their love for theatre grow,” Emily said.
Emily noted that Hannah was the only possible director who submitted a letter of interest for the spot.
“She’s doing a very good job – I’m proud of her,” Emily said, as well as praising the cast.
The show debuts on the Performing Arts Center stage Friday and Saturday at 7:30PM. Tickets are $10, and available at the door. or in advance at the Quality Inn Royle in West Kittanning, Baer Beauty in Ford City and at the Worthington Community Library.