INDEPENDENCE — The Central High School auditorium will come to life with the “Lion King Jr.,” opening tonight at 7, and running for two weeks. The Disney musical is co-directed by Jeff Witt and Wendy Boyack.
Circle of Life
What: Central High School Performing Arts presents “Lion King Jr.,” a Disney musical by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, co-directed by Wendy Boyack and Jeff Witt.
When: Wednesday (today) through Saturday, and March 7 through 10. Curtain is at 7 p.m., with two additional matinees on Saturdays at 2 p.m.
Where: Central High School auditorium, 1530 Monmouth St., Independence.
Admission: $8, general; $5, child or student with ID.
Of note: A special lunch with the Lion King characters will be offered on Saturday at noon. Historically, CHS productions of Disney musicals sell out, so reserve tickets soon.
For more information: chsperformingarts.... Online ticket sales end four hours before each show begins.
Youths, grades four through 12, transform into lions and lionesses, giraffes, elephants, rhinoceroses, wildebeests, hyenas and birds, surrounding those in attendance with music that permeates your being. Student-actors descend through the audience, surrounding it, on their way to the birthday celebration of the new king, Simba. The entire savanna has gathered to see him.
Except, that is, for his uncle, Scar, who is jealous of the young cub. Simba’s birth means Scar has lost any chance of being king of the Pride Lands.
“Scar is obviously the bad guy in the show,” said Carson Abrahamson, junior who plays Scar. “He’s the one causing the conflict and creating the story, pretty much.”
Abrahamson encapsulates the Disney character as young Simba, played by Mason Ball, fourth grade, runs round Scar’s mock throne in a lonely cave, with nothing but the dimwitted scavengers, the Hyenas, for company.
Abrahamson said he has to take a minute or two “away from the 65 other people in this cast” to get into the role.
“I have to think of things that make me angry and sad,” he said. “I just have to get into a depressed mindset, but not to the point where it consumes me.”
Abrahamson, normally a pretty nice and happy type, said it is an interesting balance between finding the darkness in his character and leaving it on stage.
“After ‘Be Prepared,’ I’m walking down the hallway with such an awful — I don’t know how to put it — a mean face, I guess I could say.”
In spite of that, Abrahamson enjoys playing the bad guy.
“Without you, there’s no story, and you get to have more fun,” he said.
The musical is as beautiful to listen to as to watch. With so many voices and bodies on stage, it can be difficult to take it all in with just one viewing.
In some ways, the “Lion King Jr.” is tougher than other plays, and in some ways easier for junior Monique Eschette, who plays the narrator and monkey Rafiki.
“It’s a lot more relaxed for me as this character, because other shows, I’ve always been running around doing quick change, trying to see what scene I’ve got to be ready for next, but this one is different,” she said. “Rafiki is just kind of a narrator who conveys a lot of the story with their body, which is interesting to me.”
That is the same thing that also makes Rafiki difficult, Eschette said.
“It’s really tricky,” she said. “I have to talk with Wendy (Boyack) a lot about how I’m crazy, but I’m a down-to-earth crazy.”
The musical contains seven languages — including English. Eschette said learning the different African languages was rough at first.
“It’s not too bad, but the roughest part for me is I have to do a little African-language monologue at the beginning,” she said.
Eschette said she leaned on experience from a fellow student, Evan Hoover, to help her get the hang of it.
“It uses every muscle in your face and neck,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
Senior Broderick Buckholz’s character Pumba comes naturally to him.
“Man oh man, I feel like I was born as Pumba,” he said. “Because in my everyday life, I am Pumba. I’m big on comedy. ... Comedy is my life.”
He and his “other half,” Timon, do a great job at it, too, Eschette said.
“You guys make it so hilarious,” she said. “I’m dying every time. They have that kind of chemistry going on. It’s so good.”
Buckholz said the hardest part of playing the warthog is getting the physical motion down.
The message of the musical is more than fun and games, as Simba, played by Brody Lutz, explains.
“It’s real fun at the beginning, being a teenager myself, it’s easy to channel that,” he said. “Then the difficulty would be trying to mature. He thinks he did a terrible thing; he thinks he killed his father. So he’s buried that deep inside himself, so when he’s reminded of it later in life, that really begins to change him.”
On the whole “murdering your father” thing, Ball said he, unlike his character of Young Simba, wouldn’t run away.
“I’d try and figure out what happened,” he said. “Maybe talk to a wildebeest or something, because they were there.”
Actors say people of all ages will enjoy this musical because it’s a lot of fun.