There was magic in the air as children from across the city made their stage debut in the Momentum Collective production of Aladdin JR Nov. 16 at the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center.
Based on Disney’s 1992 Academy Award-winning film and the 2014 hit Broadway show, Aladdin JR featured a cast of over 30 local youth between the ages of 8 and 16 in what is the city’s first children’s theater musical.
“Kids from different backgrounds came together in this production,” said Momentum Collective founder and executive director Jason Ellis. “It was a beautiful thing to see – kids from different socioeconomic conditions, different parts of the city, coming together to do this production with all first-time performers.”
In partnership with the city’s recreation department and with seed funding from the Office of the Arts, Ellis both produced and directed the beloved musical, bringing to life the story of Aladdin and his three friends, Babkak, Omar, and Kassim, who are down on their luck until Aladdin discovers a magic lamp and the Genie who has the power to grant three wishes.
“I felt very well coming out of it,” Ellis said. “Obviously we normally work with adults but I wanted to restart a children’s theater. Our first stab at a children’s production comes off the heels of our expansion of afterschool performing arts education to approximately 200 youth across the city of Alexandria. We aim to provide a positive outlet for youth while developing their artistic abilities and creative sensibilities.”
For the last several years, Ellis and Momentum Collective have been working with a number of organizations within the city to leverage resources in order to continue to provide a host of supports and services to youth, at no cost.
“This was a big heavy lift on our end to get the cast ready,” Ellis said. “It was their first time on stage and it was a wonderful process working in conjunction with the parents to support them in a way that they could be on stage confidently and give everyone a wonderful performance.”
Ellis assembled a team of seasoned theater professionals to stage the production, with Kevin White as choreographer, Michelle Hogan as music director, Charnika Hayes as acting coach, Danielle Hatcher as stage director and John Van Voorhis as technical director.
“On our end we wanted to make sure it was a well-produced event,” Ellis said. “We didn’t just want to throw a kids show together just to have a kids show. All of our resources were at play from costumes, to set design, to lighting, to all of those things to make sure it was a wonderful overall experience for the kids.”
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Ellis is an established playwright, director and choreographer and has produced several original musicals in partnership with the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority.
He is a 2018 Alexandria Living Legend recipient for his work as a social-commentary playwright and an Alexandria Chamber of Commerce 40-under-40 awardee. In 2019, he was recognized by DC Black Theater Festival for directing the best staged reading and by the Little Theater of Alexandria for best choreographer.
Proceeds from the two-night production of Aladdin JR will go towards supporting future children’s musicals as well as expanding the existing afterschool arts education programs.
“I hope to get more funding to keep this going,” Ellis said. “I want to continue this and keep it going for the foreseeable future. My plan is to do at least two children’s productions every year – one in the Spring and one in the Fall going forward. Nothing is set yet but I am looking at Once On This Island and also Annie as possible future productions.”
Thanks to the efforts of Ellis and Momentum Collective, “a whole new world” of musical theater is opening for young Alexandria performers.
To learn more about Momentum Collective, visit www.momentumcinc.org.