For those who saw the Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics and Cirque Theatre Company’s candy-coated presentation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2010, the young fellow that played the sweet, young lead is now all grown up.
Charlie, make that Cameron Fraser-Monroe, a Vernon-based dancer who has been leaping to new heights, is about to soar again. And a magic carpet may be involved.
This time he is starring in a new adventure as the street urchin who encounters love, greed, redemption and a magic genie in Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics and Cirque Theatre Company’s all new production of Aladdin’s Lamp.
“I always knew I wanted to do Aladdin, and had found the perfect person to play him. I just needed him to grow up and fill out a little,” said Olympian director Camille Martens about her young ingenue, who is now in Grade 9 at W.L. Seaton Secondary.
Besides Fraser-Monroe, Martens and her fellow coaches, including Brie-Anne MacPherson, are bringing together a talented team of their elite athletes as well as parents, grandparents and friends to stage the show at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Nov. 29 and 30.
With the youngest of the athletes at age four and the eldest at 25, Martens says it’s been especially nice to see some men step up to the podium, so to speak.
“In a girl’s sport it’s hard for dads to really be a part of it besides showing up at the competitions, but this way they really get to be a part of their little girl’s world,” said Martens.
And that includes a few grandpas too.
“I love the family atmosphere we have. We’ve now done this enough times that we have gathered a helpful and supportive group from a variety of ages and levels who get to be mentors and be mentored.”
A collaborative process, the young performers have also been involved in the development of ideas for the show.
“I think once people have seen our shows, they have the framework. It’s an hour and 45 minutes, but it is not a dance recital — you don’t have to wait to see Suzie do her thing — it’s a production. And like all cirque shows, it’s engaging. And as we have 10 kids ranked in the top 10 in our country, novice and junior, it’s excellent athletics,” said Martens.
This version of Aladdin doesn’t exactly follow the Disney tale.
Although the titular hero does have a pet monkey named Abu, and is challenged by the 40 thieves to go and steal, while Princess Jasmine hides her identity when she is presented by a group of unsuitable suitors when told she must marry, the gymnasts’ version also takes from the many different stories, and message, of the Arabian Nights and its predecessors.
“Everyone says they wrote it,” said Martens, who researched the story going all the way back to a Chinese folk tale, the earliest on record. “It travels all along the Silk Road from China to India to Pakistan and Egypt…. Jafar (the evil uncle in the Disney tale) is represented in all the stories as being from a different country.”
What remains the same is the story’s undercurrent: the internal fight between what is good and what is not.
In this adaptation, which will feature circus arts, drama, dance, music, gymnastics, acrobatics, and cirque-like storytelling, the story is the essential thread that pulls all the visuals together, said Martens.
“The introduction shows the fight going on inside and is represented by two wolves. One is a liar and is egotistical, and the other is joyful and truthful. It depends on which one you feed that will win out in the end.”
Local actor Burnet McLean, who has appeared in a number of Martens’ shows as well as at Powerhouse Theatre, plays both sides of the picture as the uncle and the genie.
“The evil uncle represents all the things he wants: power, greed, while the genie is just lovable and goofy,” said Martens.
They end up fighting with each other, which is quite a feat considering one actor is playing them both, she added.
The story has also resonated with Martens’ younger gymnasts and performers, who play everything from beggars to animals in the marketplace to princesses.
“When talking to the kids, I told them that if you walk through the streets or markets today, you will still see thieves and beggars, where there are no meals cooked for them. The one thing the kids couldn’t get over is that these children don’t have stuffies.”
And then there is the other side of the picture, the colourful Arabian costumes and the sultan’s palace. With set and lighting designed by Dave Brotsky, you can expect a grand affair, said Martens,
“Brotsky went nuts again,” she laughed, referring to the former drama teacher’s flair with a hammer, wood, nails, and paint.
“He has built the set on levels and it’s been a challenge to leave enough floor space.”
Aladdin’s Lamp takes the stage at the Performing Arts Centre Friday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 30 at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $16/children 12 and under, $20 students and seniors (65+), and $28/adult, with family packages available at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.