Performers at the Portsmouth Area Arts Council and Children’s Theatre (PACT) are preparing for their performance of the Lion King.
The show will debut on March 17, at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts, 940 2nd St., Portsmouth at 7 p.m.
One of their largest undertakings yet, this musical number features 91 students from ages six through fourteen.
When asked about the resources necessary to put on a show this scale, Executive Director Becky Lovins replied, “The first thing it takes is teamwork. You’ve got a handful of people – three – that are paid. The Executive Director, the Artistic Director and the Development Coordinator, and the three of us take care of official business during the day for the organization and the shows. But we’re a very small piece of how everything comes together. We have an extremely active board, we have parents who volunteer to do everything from watching rehearsals, build and paint sets, costumes, they drive around and put out yard signs, table tents and posters. We would not exist without them. The teamwork between the staff, the board and the parents is essential, without that there’s no way that this would come together.”
Based on the 1994 Disney film, the Lion King tells the story of young Simba, a coming-of-age lion cub who will one day be king. Simba’s birth changes the order of succession, knocking his Uncle Scar out of the running for the kingdom. Jealousy blinds Scar, causing him to kill his brother Mufasa, blaming his death on Young Simba. Simba flees the kingdom and the story tells of his misadventures with meerkat and warthog duo, Timon and Pumbaa.
Director Susan Foster says the large cast aids in the dynamic of the show and despite what you may think about putting 90 plus children together, things have gone relatively smooth.
“At the beginning we broke it down into groups, but once you get so far, it’s everybody every time,” said Foster. “The performers are divided into prides and numbered chairs are set-up in the practice space, each child was assigned a number that corresponds to a chair based on pride. Each pride has a song that they do, that way everyone has their fair share of lines and stage-time, obviously, we can’t have 91 children on the stage at all times. I was scared at first, I was worried that things may be catastrophic at some point in time, but it has really been an easy group to work with, and with the best personalities. I think that’s really saying something considering I’ve had groups for however long now, and this has been one of the best behaved groups and the most kids I’ve ever had.”
The show features several custom-built puppets for characters like Zazu and Timon. The puppets are intricate, and worn by the performers, just like in the Broadway production.
“We’re trying to do it as close to the Broadway show as we can, to give them that experience,” Foster explained. “Some of these kids will never, ever get to see a show on Broadway or even get to go to a performance nearby. So we’re trying to do a little Broadway here in Portsmouth, Ohio.”
According to Music Director, Drew Cunningham, the children caught on quickly to the songs and despite having sung them over and over, they are still enthusiastic when they play.
“For the first two weeks of practice, we have all the kids here and we just go through a couple songs a night, really making sure that they know the parts and how the tunes go,” explained Cunningham. “Of course we ask them to go home and practice and by the end of those two weeks we start blocking the show and we don’t have to worry about learning music as they’re trying to learn the lines.”
Ava Johnson, age 8, says she and her sister Bridget, age 9, are very excited for the show and really like singing and dancing to all the songs. Ava is a member of the Hlabelela Pride and Bridget plays in the Umculo Pride.
The show will be held at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts, 940 2nd Street, Portsmouth on March 17-18 at 7 p.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 per student and $12 per adult. Tickets are available in the McKinley Box Office, please call 740-351-3600 or visit www.vrcfa.com/events and select The Lion King.
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