“You ain’t never had a friend like me,” is a popular lyric from the production of the musical Aladdin.
For the cast and crew of the Sacred Heart production of the play those eight words have a profound poignancy that will forever remain a part of their lives.
“Whenever I chose a production, I always pick it based on the students who show an interest,” Jan Bahner, SHS English and theatre teacher said. “This fall, when I chose Aladdin, I knew I had the right kids and Zach was a major one.”
Bahner is referring to Zach Parsons, a 17-year-old junior at SHS who was killed in a car accident as he was driving home after participating in the Bothwell Regional Health Center Explorer’s Program on February 15.
Parsons’ was slated to play the lead role in the musical.
“The afternoon when we were notified of Zach’s death, I had a meeting with the cast and crew because we had to make a decision as to if we would continue with the play,” Bahner said tearfully. “When I saw everyone come together and make the decision saying, ‘we have to do this, if we don’t it will be a disservice to Zach and his memory,’ I knew we had to as well.”
Bahner said the hard part was recasting the role of Aladdin.
“Several students who weren’t in the cast wanted to join after they heard we were going forward,” Bahner said. “I wasn’t sure how we would do it and that’s when Britten Mergen came to talk to me .”
Mergen was Parsons’ best friend and he offered to take on the lead role.
“Zach was always on my back about being in the plays,” Mergen said. “I thought I owed it to him.”
Megren said he was involved in choir but was never interested in theatre, this will be his first stage production.
“I only had a month to get the role down,” Mergen said. “I think most people are proud that I decided to do this, I really think no one thought I would do it or that I would enjoy it so much; I guess I should have listened to my best friend.”
Bahner thinks the cast has come together in countless ways and that they are doing as well as can be expected and are ready for the production that begins tonight and continues Saturday night at the Smith-Cotton Junior High Auditorium.
“One of the reasons I love theatre is because I have seen so many students blossom and grow because of it,” Bahner said. “It helps them to open up in unbelievable ways and I want to share that love.
“I always try to choose productions that will appeal to the elementary students, to get them excited and interested in live theatre as soon as I can,” she added. “We have some unbelievable talent in this production and I think everyone who comes will find something to enjoy.”
Sacred Heart’s production is based on the Disney animated cartoon.
“The focus is on Aladdin and how he is a diamond in the rough but more than that, it’s the story of Aladdin and Jasmine and how they came together from different backgrounds,” Bahner said. “I think we are purposely not trying to play it exactly like the movie.”
Some notable performances according to Bahner are Patrick Lutz, an international student who is portraying Iago.
“Patrick is playing him as a person with parrot like qualities and he and Jacob Smothers who plays the Genie do provide a bit of comic relief.” Bahner said. “Leon Jaing another of our international students is cast as Jafar and he is having a lot of fun with his role as well.
Bahner also compliments Katherine Freels in the role of Jasmine and Mergen for both their acting and singing talents as well as a guest performer, local physician Dr. John Wendt who is playing the role of Jasmine’s father, the Sultan.
“When you teach in a small school, you never have enough boys to fill the parts,” Bahner said with a smile. “We also have a two elementary students (Mariah Van Leer and Audrey Wilhelm) who have parts and they have done an excellent job as well, in fact the entire cast has worked very hard to see this through.
“This is something that we all feel we had to do,” Bahner said. “I think we have gotten through it by sheer will and a desire to keep going.”
Bahner added that desire and hard work were two of the qualities that Parson brought to his role in practice for the play.
“Zach didn’t think he was a strong singer, but he worked hard and tackled it; that’s how he approached everything,” Bahner said. “One of my biggest regrets is that Zach’s mother never had the opportunity to hear him sing on the stage, but I think he is here with us and is a part of it with us each step of the way.”
Sacred Heart’s performances of Aladdin with are tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith-Cotton Junior High Auditorium, 312 Broadway Blvd.
Admission is $5 per person.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484