Anyone driving by Diana Prior's home in Rancho Sahuarita last Thursday afternoon probably thought she was having a huge party. There were 70 kids in the backyard and lots of laughter and loud music.
Party? Sort of.
Prior and her sister, Cindy Robinson, were holding rehearsals for the musical "Aladdin Jr." They are co-owners of Hey Productions. After four years of directing and choreographing musicals at Great Expectations Academy, the sisters decided to start their own production company in summer 2018.
In addition to producing musicals for GEA, they offer singing, dancing and acting classes to youngsters and produce their own musicals.
In April, they directed "High School Musical: inside the Sahuarita Unified School District auditorium. "Aladdin Jr." will be Hey Productions' second show at SUSD.
They normally practice at GEA, but Thursday's rehearsal was held in Prior's backyard because the school isn't big enough for all of the set.
It was the first time the kids got to rehearse with the set, which can't be assembled on SUSD's stage until Friday.
Although a bit cramped in the backyard, the kids had a blast making sure they had their timing down for such songs as "Arabian Nights," "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim," "These Palace Walls" and "High Adventure."
Auditions for "Aladdin Jr." were in August and rehearsals began soon after. The cast is comprised of kids ages 9 to 18. Some are former GEA students and others are home-school students, Hey Production students and kids who have gained experience through Christian Youth Theater and elsewhere.
Three of the leads in the play are Sahuarita High School students. Tys Buckway, 17, auditioned for "High School Musical" on a whim last spring and was cast as Chad. Now he's playing Genie in "Aladdin Jr."
"Up until this year, I hadn't been apart of any drama, but after I started it, it seemed like a really cool thing to do," Buckway said.
It's been fun working with Prior, Robinson and his co-stars, but he admits to some nerves about this weekend.
"Robin Williams set the bar way up here and there's no way I can get there, but I'm going to try to approach it," he said, noting that his directors are allowing him to ad-lib parts of his performance.
Zoe Piedmont, a 16-year-old sophomore at SHS, is portraying Princess Jasmine. She caught the acting bug at GEA about four years ago when she was in "The Little Mermaid."
"I'm in love with theater. It's fun to get into this whole different character and just be part of a different world. Plus, I love singing," Piedmont said.
Like Buckway, she thinks the world of her directors.
"I love them. They're my favorite," she said. "You'd think there'd be a lot of pressure, but they make everything so much fun."
Noah Walton, a 17-year-old senior at SHS, started acting at CYT as an eighth-grader. He learned about Hey Productions through church and was cast in "High School Musical." This time around he's playing Aladdin and promises the play will be "super fun and energetic."
"It's a great story with amazing dancing and singing," he said.
Prior and Robinson said they have a small army of volunteers who work with them on their productions — music directors/vocal coaches, a stage manager and people responsible for costumes, sets and props, lighting and sound.
They have high hopes for their company. When they directed "High School Musical," they only rented one pod of the SUSD auditorium and quickly sold out.
This time, they have rented the entire auditorium.
Maybe one day they'll have a community theater of their own in Sahuarita, the sisters said.
As for now, they're excited about "Aladdin Jr." because Disney and Musical Theatre International is allowing Hey Productions to use the actual lamp from Broadway to perform with. They'll have the lamp on display before and after the show for people to take pictures with.
Their "Aladdin Jr." is a "neat take on the traditional story," Robinson said.
"It's going to be very fun and high energy. There are big dance sequences and lots of musical numbers and the costumes are beautiful," she said.
Hey Productions will take about a month off before holding auditions for "Into the Woods Jr." The musical fantasy is scheduled to hit the stage Feb. 28-29.