River HomeLink’s theater program prepares for ‘Aladdin’ production


River HomeLink’s theater students have strengthened their bonds and rebuilt the popular program on campus as they prepare for their first production since the pandemic with their December run of Disney’s “Aladdin.”

River HomeLink, Battle Ground Public Schools, alternative school theater students have rehearsed twice a week since summer in preparation for their December run.

Program director Sandy Sparks said this will be the program’s biggest musical since the pandemic.

“What I love seeing is the growth in the program because it took a little bit of a hit, and the fact that Aladdin’s on Broadway right now brings a lot of interest in seeing ‘Aladdin,’ ” Sparks said.

Sparks’ last production at River HomeLink was “Frozen” before COVID. She said it was great for her students to get back to the theater and be creative and interact with each other again. “Kids were pretty lonely, and my students have connected in that they do a lot of things outside of class together, and it’s kind of their friend group…” she added.

For the production of “Aladdin,” Sparks has around 40 students participating. James Cavallero is playing Aladdin for the musical.

“I’ve been a part of the program for five years now,” Cavallero said. “It’s a great way to spend my time other than sitting at home doing nothing, and then it’s fun. I was a little scared to join the program at first because it’s theater, but we’re kind of the cool kids around here.”

Cavallero stressed the importance of the amount of work that is going into the production with parent volunteers making most of the costumes. He also commended the choreographers with all the work that they do, as well as the amount of practice singing and dancing the performers do.

Sparks said the students began learning song lyrics over the summer with music director Kairi Izzy. She also praised the parent volunteers.

“Actually, I wouldn’t do this program without the parents, and I have been at this school since 1998, and the program I’ve run through the years as I am getting older … parents are my lifeline. They really are,” Sparks said.

She said her set designer, despite not having children in the program any longer, still volunteers and does all the set work. As well, two former students are in charge of the sound and lights for Sparks.

“What I love is the community that has been built, and that’s largely due to the parents,” Sparks said.

Olivia Isse, a junior at River HomeLink, has been a part of the program since she was in sixth grade.

“It means a lot because I put a lot of work into it and I help with choreography, and my family has been a part of this program for a long time. So I feel like I’m upholding the legacy,” Isse said.

She also has a special connection with the musical.

“For me personally, I have a lot of Arab heritage,” Isse said. “So I would like to express that within the show, which I really like. … So it’s felt really heartwarming for me to put into that and share it with a lot of the students here.”

Averi Mason, a sophomore at River Homelink has found the theater program to be a creative outlet as well as a community for her.

“We’re all just kind of like one big family. It’s really nice,” Mason said. “We’ve all been working for months. We’ve been working really hard, like nailing down the choreography for the dances. I helped choreograph it. I did like two or three numbers. We’re all super-supportive of each other. We all, like, encourage each other. We don’t put each other down. We’re just really welcoming and really nice.”

Ashlyn Nalos, who has been with the program for three years, enjoys the camaraderie, as well.

“To me personally, it’s just been a family, like a place where everybody is welcome, and people of all different experience levels just come and can learn new things and have a great experience,” Nalos said. “I’d like [the community] to know just how much everyone here is appreciated and how much time they put in. No matter their role, no matter their part, everyone’s committed practically their life to creating such an amazing show.”

The show will take place the first two weekends of December with shows at Prairie High School.