New director Cline guides production of ‘Aladdin Jr.’

By Suzi Brozman

Jordan Harris plays Aladdin, and Katherine Burnette is Jasmine in the Jerry’s Habima Theatre production of “Aladdin Jr.” – Photos by Jennifer Bienstock

Photos by Jennifer Bienstock

The Marcus Jewish Community Center is proud of Jerry’s Habima Theatre, Georgia’s only theatrical company that features actors with special needs and is produced and directed by professionals.

It was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America Grant in December and, as is typical, is premiering its 22nd annual show in February to coincide with Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

The theater this year welcomes a new director, Heidi Cline. A longtime Atlantan, Cline has worked as an intern at the Alliance Theatre, at the Shakespeare Tavern, at the Horizon and at the Lyric Theatre, among others. She has taught and worked with performers of all ages.

“I get to know the actors, to approach them individually,” Cline said. “I have seen how theater can turn the lights on and bring their senses alive as they experience what it’s like to be creative. It’s made me appreciate the applications of theater, entertaining and being therapeutic.”

Cline is married to actor, director and choreographer Jeff McKerley, who is choreographing this year’s Habima production, Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.”

While live theater is limited compared with the dynamic Robin Williams performance that Disney animators brought to life, some jokes and other clever elements are retained from the “Aladdin” film. “We’re doing a lot with puppetry, with hands, eyes, heart and voice all coming together,” Cline said. “You can’t remove an audience’s expectations, but you can honor them, honor the text but with your own stamp on it.”

Dealing with actors’ limitations can be a challenge. A couple of actors have vision problems; Cline’s solution includes the use a life-size tiger puppet that helps the actor offstage. One actor who requires a wheelchair figured out for himself that he should be the magic carpet — a magical moment for the show.

The cast includes 37 amateurs ages 18 to 60ish, plus four “ringers” — professional actors. The show is professionally designed and staged and relies on help from families and staff members.

Janet Cadranel is joining Terri Bagen in co-chairing Jerry’s Habima Theatre this year. “What I have always found to be so powerful is how Jerry’s Habima Theatre continues to provide a safe place for self-expression,” Cadranel said. “I see these actors come alive onstage, without the fear of not being accepted, because the audience allows them just to be themselves.”


 

What: Jerry’s Habima Theatre production of “Aladdin Jr.”

Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody

When: Thursday, Feb. 26, Saturday, Feb. 28, Wednesday, March 4, and Thursday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 1 and 8, 3 p.m.

Tickets: $25 for adults, $10 for children 12 and under for MJCCA members; $35 and $15 for nonmembers; 678-812-4002 or www.atlantajaa.org/boxoffice.