South Philly lands lead roles at Walnut

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Newbold and Packer Park residents present “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” at the oldest theatre in the U.S.

The Genie (Melina Cruz), The Sultan (South Philly resident Andre Brockenbrough, Jr.) and Princess Jasmine (South Philly resident Domenica Passio). (Photo courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre)

Young South Philly thespians are mounting a magic carpet and heading to the mainstage of the Walnut Street Theatre.

In the premiere performance of its 2018–2019 Walnut Street Theatre for Kids season, the oldest playhouse in the United States, which is kicking off its 210th season, presents “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” through Sept. 30, featuring young actors from across the region, including some from the Newbold and Packer Park neighborhoods.

Domenica Passio, a 17-year-old senior from the Girard Academic Music Program, is tackling the resolute role of Princess Jasmine, while 12-year-old Andre Brockenbrough Jr. of St. Monica’s, is playing her father, the jocular Sultan.

Both actors participated in this past summer’s Camp Walnut, leading to their August auditions for Aladdin.

“I realized when I got the role of Sultan, I looked at the book. I read it and really think he was a pretty funny dude,” Brockenbrough said. “And at school, I used to be like the class clown and played around all the time. So, I realized, ‘I’m going to be really good at this character.’”

For Passio, who says she’s dreamt of playing this princess since she was a kid, Jasmine emulates the 17-year-old’s own feisty persona, as Passio has played other strong feminist roles, including the role of Vanessa in GAMP’s 2018 production of “In the Heights.”

“Just (Jasmine’s) style is very strong-willed and powerful,” she said. “And she’s very commanding … that was super exciting for me to get to play, because she does have that feminist vibe, and I’m all for that. It was so much fun to be able to put myself in that, because I consider myself, a strong, powerful person, woman, and getting to put that into my character was just so much fun.”

As far as both the musicality and dramatics, both actors says, as rewarding as it was, they faced a few challenges when approaching the parts.

Princess Jasmine (South Philly resident Domenica Passio) and Aladdin (Immanuel Rimmer) (Photo courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre)

For Andre, as an adolescent boy experiencing vocal changes, reaching the more soprano notes in Sultan’s vocal range required particular focus.

Since Jasmine tends to feel hot and cold toward Aladdin, Passio says her crucial component was learning how to turn a certain emotion on and off.

“Sometimes I’m in love with him, sometimes I’m super mad at him,” she said. “But, once I got the hold of it, it was really fun to play around with.”

As far as bringing the show to life, they say another exacting theatrical element was learning blanket choreography and music in various studios around the Walnut and then eventually stitching it all together on the mainstage at the tech rehearsal the week of the opening show.

“We had to tackle different kinds of areas to make the same thing in each different room, but we made it work out,” Brockenbrough said.

Between the mainstage shows, kids season and WST for Kids, the theatre puts on more than a dozen shows each year, as the run of “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” overlaps with Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn.”

The aspiring actors feel especially enthused knowing they share a stage, dressing room and even some versatile sets with the company of professional actors.

From the props, lighting and , of course, the spellbinding special effects, Passio and Brockenbrough say the Walnut’s proscenium stage lends itself to the story of Aladdin.

While the actors explained little-known elements, like how the rotation of one set can transport audiences from either the marketplace to the palace, they couldn’t reveal too many backstage secrets but assured the magic stays intact.

But, perhaps the most surreal part of the production is the opportunity to perform at the Walnut.

The Sultan (South Philly resident Andre Brockenbrough, Jr.), Aladdin (Immanuel Rimmer) and Iago (Delilah Figueroa) (Photo courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre)

“It’s a great feeling,” Brockenbrough said. “This is the oldest theatre in America. Who wouldn’t want to perform on the mainstage here?”

Info: “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” is running through Sept. 30 at the Walnut Street Theatre

For information about ticket prices and showtimes, please visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org/season/show/disneys-aladdin-jr.