The idea that a Starlight Theatre production can only be seen in the summer is about to become obsolete.
For the first time in its 61 years, Starlight travels outside of Swope Park to open the first of two musicals for children and their families this week at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Starlight Theater is Kansas City's oldest and largest performing arts organization, and many baby boomers who grew up here can pinpoint their first theater experience to the open-air venue. Starlight president and executive producer Denton Yockey says Starlight has a tradition of introducing young people to live theater which continues with their upcoming production of the musical "Aladdin," opening this week at the Kauffman Center.
"We've been doing - rather intentionally or by accident - shows for young children and their families out here at Starlight for a long time," he says. "Decades and decades. This is an opportunity for us to expand upon that kind of programming during what is traditionally our off-season. And in the grandest new venue in town."
Casting the Show with Professional and New Talent
The cast of "Aladdin" includes both professional actors and children and youth from one of Starlight's various educational programs, which range from Starlight Theatre Academy's in-house acting classes to Starlight on Site, doing outreach to various local schools. Yockey says that this production and the April show, "Narnia the Musical," offer a way for the theater to utilize the kids it works with.
"We didn't have that component as part of our educational programming, so this will serve as kind of a flagship for those kids who aspire (to say) 'Okay, I've taken your acting class - now what do i do? What's the next step'. Now we have something for them to do."
Collaboration Designed to Build New Audiences
The collaboration is also compatible with both organizations' mission to give children a live experience with the arts that can lead to life-long patronage, says the Kauffman Center's President and CEO Jane Chu.
"We did identify with Starlight - their talented ability to produce (and) knowing we had a niche we wanted to reach: children and families," Chu says.
"And for all kinds of reasons. One in particular: we want children socialized to the arts and be so comfortable with it that as they grow, they become arts lovers and see how the arts can transform to other skills. We had to start early and Starlight fits the bill."
"Aladdin" Unites New Choreographer and Veteran Genie
Among "Aladdin"'s professional crew is choreographer Christina Burton, who says she's young enough to have been imprinted by the 1992 Disney film.
"I grew up watching it; it's one of my favorite Disney movies," she says. "I always wanted to be Princess Jasmine - you always envision yourself being a princess one day, so it's nice to be on the opposite side and create, say, the Bollywood style we Americans don't see that often."
Directing and playing the Genie - which he played for three years at Disneyland's California Adventure - is Jerry Jay Cranford, who's enthusiastic about bringing "Aladdin" to Kansas City's Kauffman Center.
"I'm excited because I love the show (after three years of doing it for Disney), and the thought of using all local talent is exciting to me. And I also feel fortunate (about doing the show at the Kauffman Center). You look out and it's just sparkly and there's something magical about it."
However the first collaboration goes, Starlight and the Kauffman Center will give it another go this August when the former's production of "Aida" will be presented at the latter.
The six public performances of "Aladdin" run this Friday through Sunday at the Kauffman Center.