By L&T columnist Rachael Coleman
In just three weeks, the Rainbow Players’ production of “Aladdin,” the Disney musical, is scheduled to appear on stage at the Seward County Community College/Area Technical School’s Showcase Theater — five times.
With matinees, workday and weekend shows to choose from, there’s no reason for anyone to miss “Aladdin.” There are plenty of reasons, however, to set aside an hour or two and join in as part of the audience.
Community theater and music is one of the most old-fashioned, traditional ways I know to spend time with friends and neighbors. Decades ago, nearly every small town in America had a community band, complete with uniforms. Shuffle through bins of faded, cardboard photo prints at antique shops, and you’re sure to find at least one image of a town band, lined up stiffly for the photographer, buttons polished, instruments gleaming, faces somber. It wasn’t typical to grin at the camera, selfie-style. Freezing a moment in time thanks to the mysterious new technology of photography was serious business, and no time to act silly. How times have changed.
A classic Broadway show, “The Music Man,” chronicles one small town’s adventures with an itinerant con man, their community band, and the chaos that ensues when Harold Hill persuades the good people of River City to hand over money for shiny new instruments. As the song goes, “You Got Trouble.”
Rainbow Players director Gloria Goodwin is a leader of a different sort. A Plains native who attended SCCC/ATS before going on to a successful career in big-city radio markets, Goodwin returned to the area as a drama teacher several years ago. Her students adore “Glo,” and when she took on the job of directing the non-profit Rainbow Players’ summer production, a fresh group of young, enthusiastic actors followed. The current Rainbow Players roster also includes area residents from Sublette, Satanta and Plains.
Goodwin has long wanted to direct the dual-language edition of “Aladdin.” No wonder: the hybrid is perfect for Liberal, with our bicultural population, signage in both English and Spanish, and a delicious array of food trucks and restaurants and grocery stores and bakeries available to people of all races. Some people say music is the universal language, but when I’m wrapping up a hectic day with a run to El Pastorcito, my favorite taco stand, I often think food breaks down cultural barriers faster than anything. The waitresses are always patient with my fumbling Spanish as I request carnes asados and manzanita soda.
Translators also play an important role in the Rainbow Players’ “Aladdin,” a version of the popular Disney animated movie released in 1992. Based on the classic Arabian Nights tale of a boy who finds a magic lamp, releases a wish-granting genie, and then goes on to win the heart of the Princess Jasmine, the movie featured the voice of comedian Robin Williams in the genie role.
As is typical of Disney hits, the show became a performance piece at Disney World and Disney Land, eventually morphing into the dual-language version. Plot changes altered the original story so that language itself became part of the story. The folks at Disney worked their usual magic to include material in English and in Spanish, in a way that makes both accessible to all viewers whether or not they are bilingual.
The local cast of Aladdin reflects the community itself, with a mixture of native Spanish speakers and some who learned Espanol in the classroom. The contrasts continue with singers young and old, nimble people who navigate the song and dance with ease, and those who need extra practice with choreography. The results, so far, are impressive and a heck of a lot of fun.
A couple weeks ago, I stood outside the vocal music room at the college and listened in wonder. Under the musical direction of USD 480 elementary music teacher Stephanie Drymalski, the cast belted out choruses with a sound much bigger than a peek around the door indicated. A few rows of singers sounded like a full-blown choir.
When I arrived in Liberal two decades ago, our community had just begun to struggle with the integration of a culture that felt foreign to people outside the Latino world. State and federal laws that required dual-language ballots and informational material at government agencies worried many people, and sparked anger. At the same time, everyone relished the accessible elements of Latin culture — things like food, beautiful art and traditional clothing, dancing, music, and celebrations like Cinco de Mayo. And at church events, it didn’t seem to matter what language was used during the prayers; everyone felt the Spirit.
I’m proud of how Liberal has worked through sticky and sometimes stressful issues to embrace all the races and languages that comprise our community. I love the little things, like noticing that announcers have gotten better at pronouncing Spanish names correctly, and seeing Hispanic kids run around town with their English-speaking friends. It’s also exciting to see more crossover ventures, where a longstanding nonprofit organization like Rainbow Players begins to integrate more than one culture and language into its everyday operations. It’s done so without much fuss or fanfare. At the same time, it’s worth noticing — and celebrating.
Seeing the latest show in a few weeks will be another example of what is possible when we put aside labels and get on with the business of everyday life. In this case, it’s music, acting, some gymnastic feats, and a whole lot of magic.
Shows are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on July 10, 11 and 12; 2 p.m. performances will run July 12 and 13, so even families with small children can plan to take in the wonders of Aladdin and friends. Ticket prices are $10 for adults, and $8 for children younger than 12 years old and senior citizens.