The cafeteria at Manchester Township Middle School bustled Tuesday afternoon as students prepare to open Disney's "Aladdin Jr." Friday night.
Claire Rutz, an English teacher at the school who serves as the Drama Club moderator has her hands full. About 90 students are participating in the school's Drama Club production this year. They've been meeting after school, one day a week, for months to prepare for the show's two-day run.
"This year, we have excellent vocal talent and personalities that fill the bill for 'Aladdin,'" Rutz said. Having worked with the club for the past eight years, Rutz said that students — who must keep their grades up in order to perform — are disciplined, funny and also "amazingly talented."
"I really enjoy working with them," she said. "They work hard, do their best, and in the end, they develop a great sense of teamwork."
The stage production, which begins Friday, March 23 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Manchester Township High School, is based on the 1992 Disney film and features many of the original songs.
The story finds Aladdin, a poor man from the streets of Agrabah, in a quest to win the love of Princess Jasmine. Along the way, he must overcome the villainous Jafar with the help of Genie.
"The deeper message found in the play is to value honesty, individuality, and friendship," Rutz said.
The junior version of Aladdin is structured in a way that — in addition to the main characters — narrators help to move the plot and contribute songs, effectively creating about 10 lead parts.
"The selection allows many students the opportunity to experience the thrill of a leading role," Rutz said.
"One of the most challenging roles" is Genie, Rutz said.
"Our seventh grader, Darius Walton, has the comic timing and personality to masterfully handle this role," Rutz said. "His brother, eighth grader grader Demetrius, is a very convincing and talented actor as the villain, Jafar."
Darius Walton said that he can see himself in his character's personality.
"The Genie is the same as me — loud, crazy and comical," he said.
Other leads include eighth graders Abby Hulse as Jasmine, Jason Mount as Aladdin, Natalie Klein as Iago and Zach Thomas as the Sultan. Narrators are eighth graders Danielle Gabinette, Alexis Claire Kleva, Natasha Marchuk and seventh grader Kristen Nieves.
The whole process, to which students have dedicated considerable time, has helped form friendships, Kleva said.
"We get closer to everybody," she said.
The Drama Club crew, which is called "Stage Brains," Rutz said, are led by music teacher Nancy Condrado. They create sets, props and work behind the scenes during the performance. Basic skills teacher Joan Slate acts as business manager, and about 10 other teachers volunteer their time to help on performance nights.
"So it truly is a labor of love for MTMS, at large," Rutz said. "The students are ready, and just can't wait to get on stage at Manchester Township High School to 'wow' their audiences. I know they will, and I can't wait to see them shine."
In addition to the Friday show, a second performance will be staged on Saturday, March 24 at 7 p.m. at MTHS. Tickets for all shows, which are sponsored in part by the Manchester Township Education Association and the township's PTA, are $5 for adults and $3.50 for students and seniors. Children under three years old are admitted free.