The Lion King comes to the PAC


Louisa Hall


A few months ago, February 24 to be exact, the choir and IB art students visited the Detroit Institute of Art and got the chance to experience the Broadway show The Lion King. The show had few empty seats that Thursday night.

 The first act started; actors dressed in extravagant animal costumes paraded through the audience and stage. The show had my all of my attention. I was captivated by the high energy they all had on stage. There was an upbeat presence that was engaging. By intermission, everyone was gushing, excited to see what Act Two would offer. I’ve been a big fan of The Lion King since I was a kid, so it was an amazing experience to see live on stage. The actors had so much passion and embodied their characters seamlessly. During the big dance numbers, I could see how much energy they had.

 A little more than a week later, West Ottawa’s Middle School Theater Department announced the spring musical was going to be The Lion King Jr. All the high schoolers involved in theater were excited and secretly jealous they weren’t the ones that would be performing on stage. Most of them were in choir and had gone on the Detroit trip and saw The Lion King.

 Production crews for the middle school shows are run by high schoolers. Because The Lion King Jr. is a big show, with lots of musical numbers and a big cast, there were more options available for high schoolers working crew, as there was a great need for them. Like previous shows I’ve worked, I signed up for hair and makeup. However, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to be a part of the show in a stage-like way, so I also signed up to help with choreography. Six high schoolers were selected as assistant choreographers to work on numbers with the middle schoolers.

   The first day we were there, we mostly watched what parts of the show they had practiced so far. Many of the scenes still had to be worked and some of the numbers hadn’t been created. Right away we jumped in and started learning the dance Director Joe Huber was teaching, giving suggestions on how to transition moves and fill spaces. Some of the students were having a blast, understanding everything thrown at them. Others were struggling to even step with the correct foot and move their arm.

 There was work to be done. These big numbers needed to be in unison, not a combination of misplaced motions. As we kept rehearsing with the students, I started getting frustrated with myself because we all knew that we could not compare middle schoolers to a Broadway production, but we all desperately wanted the show to be as good, so we did.  

 Soph. Benny Rathana felt some frustration from working as an assistant choreographer as well. “Since I have experience with theater, I want it to look as high quality as possible. I want to incorporate as much of the Broadway version, but it’s hard because they’re so young. It’s difficult to plan and choreograph the dances when you’re thinking about how the Broadway version looked. It’s easier said than done,” Rathana said.

 It takes lots of patience and time. Every rehearsal day is two and a half hours, so we have to make the most out of the time given. Sophomores Gabi Hall and Jaelan Williams were given the task of running the number “Be Prepared” which features The Lion King Jr. characters Scar and  the hyenas. “It’sdefinitely not easy. There was no in between with “Be Prepared”, you either knew it or you had no clue what was going on. It was stressful and took a lot of effort and time to clean and correct the dance,” Hall said.  

  Most of the time was spent sharpening the movements because they’re supposed to have straight arms and step on the correct foot at the right time to get the whole picture. This dance took about a three days of learning to get to a position where we could start being picky about correct placement.

  Jr. Tess Monahan helped Huber with the number “He Lives in You”. To enter the stage, the students have an intricate walk that switches from facing the front to facing the back. They all had the step down after going over it maybe twice. Progress was being made.

 The show started to come together. The leads became more confident in their lines, and dances looked cleaner and had more passion. Every day the cast consistently improved and evolved the show from a blocked script to a mass production filled with energy.

  “I was really impressed with the ensemble. The main characters are great but the ensemble is very hard working and talented. The kids are really good and care a lot about how the show works. They all accept each other as a cast and they have a really good dynamic and they encourage each other to do the best, ” Frosh. Marissa Cole, a sound crew member, said.

 After weeks of work, the high school helpers have switched their perspective. No longer do they focus on the difference between the Broadway show and the middle school performance. Instead, they focus on the great progress made and on the impressive final product.

 While it’s not the Broadway production I watched in Detroit, The Lion King Jr.  is nonetheless a very impressive and unique show. Working a show like this has made me realize and appreciate live theater even more than I did. I thought I appreciated the work and time actors put into making great performances after being in shows, but after seeing and working one on one with students, I appreciate the work they put in even more. Just like everything else that can be done, effort and hard work pay off and allow for great improvements.

 It’s surprising to know that they are only middle schoolers performing with great talent that will take them far. Many of them will be joining West Ottawa’s theater once they move up to high school. There’s a lot of talent to be excited about and to look forward to.

  Come see West Ottawa Middle School’s The Lion King Jr May 5 and 6 at 7:30 pm, or May 6 and 7 at 2:30 pm.