Julie Zedlitz, the 27-year choir and musical director for Swanton High and Middle Schools, considered several productions that she knew would be entertaining, fun for the students, and serve to celebrate her 25th consecutive year in directing Swanton’s spring musical. For her silver anniversary, she decided to choose a production that would be fit for a king, and selected The Lion King Jr.
It is a story almost as old as time itself, a power struggle within a family to rule over a kingdom, involving deceit, treachery and murder. In the end however, good triumphs over evil and along the way true love is found.
The production is an edited version of Broadway’s The Lion King which was first staged in 1997 and was adapted from Walt Disney’s Oscar-winning animated movie of the same name, released in 1994. “I’ve wanted to do this for a few years but the costumes were not available,” explained Ms. Zedlitz. “They come from a company in New York and I was finally able to get them this year.”
Anyone who has seen this musical would understand why costumes would be a complicated issue. They are elaborate, detailed, stunningly impressive and, with a cast of over 100, “not cheap”, coming in with a price tag of approximately $7000. Worth every penny.
The show opens with the birth of Simba (Kaden Curtis) to the reigning lion king Musafa (Ronnie Lunsford). As Simba grows he is counseled by his father and the shaman Rafiki (Mikayla Rochelle) and taught to understand he will one day take his father’s place in the Circle of Life as ruler of Pride Lands. However, secretly plotting against them is Musafa’s brother Scar (Joey Webb).
Eventually, Scar kills Musafa, chases off Simba with the help of wild hyenas and takes over the throne. Simba escapes to another land, befriends Timon (Abby Arnold) and Pumbaa (Justin Niday) who help him mature and is eventually reunited with his childhood friend Nala (Ally Hendricks). Nala, along with Rafiki, convince the now mature Simba (Ricky Alfsen) to return home and claim his rightful place as the legitimate lion king. Simba goes back and defeats Scar in battle and banishes his uncle from Pride Lands forever.
More impressive than the costuming and make-up in this production was the abundance of talent contained in the large cast. Two middle schoolers, Apple Fontana as young Nala and Kaden Curtis as young Simba performed beyond their years. Abby Arnold as Timon and Justin Niday as Pumbaa were great as an acting and singing tandem providing comic relief. Mikayla Rochelle flitted around the stage dispensing sage wisdom and sang a wonderful solo.
Ronnie Lunsford was regal and commanding as the Lion King while Joey Webb as his evil and ambitious brother Scar was brilliant with his deep and intimidating voice. Golden-voiced Ally Hendricks gave a moving performance of the show’s signature song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and displayed a natural chemistry with Ricky Alfsen as Simba.
The supporting cast did a commendable job with their singing and choreography. If there were any mistakes made on stage they were transparent to the audience and the pit orchestra, under the direction of Samantha Preisner, was on key all evening in between each of the 13 scenes.
The early demand for tickets was so strong Ms. Zedlitz converted the Thursday night dress rehearsal into an actual show. “We’ve never had four shows before,” she said. “Not ever.” Given all the accolades, a return engagement of The Lion King Jr. to Swanton High School may not be too many years away.