It took a year, but the adventures of Simba, Mufasa and Scar can finally be seen on the Wauseon High School stage this weekend.
Shut down by COVID-19 in 2020, The WHS production of Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” will be held Friday, April 16, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 17, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, April 18, at 2 p.m. at the WHS auditorium, 840 Parkview St.
People who can’t make the live presentation or have COVID-19 concerns can order an online pre-recorded screening of the show, to be presented Saturday, May 1, at 7 p.m.
It’s been a long wait for the live rendition of “Lion King Jr.,” and state pandemic mandates will require limited, socially-distanced seating and masks being worn by all audience members. But restrictions aside, Director Jason Robinson said the thought of canceling the musical for two consecutive years was devastating, and, in his opinion, seemed likely.
“Thankfully, the cast has been extremely responsible and has repeatedly put the show first,” he said.
Robinson said sets and props for the highly technical production involved experimentation with never-before used materials, a new lighting system that allows for better special effects, and pre-recorded music instead of an orchestra. “(E)verything has to be timed perfectly throughout the show. The students and crew have spent endless hours getting comfortable with the new tech and pinning down their timing to the exact moment,” he said.
Due to production and seating changes he, Assistant Director James Vaughn, and Technical Director Don Clark were forced to reblock scenes during which cast members were meant to travel through the audience. They also had to make the difficult decision that cast members will not wear masks during the performances.
“The way we see it, if no one would expect a basketball player to wear a mask while playing on the court, it is equally acceptable not to wear masks while dancing,” Robinson said. “Besides, the costumes and microphones are not very mask-friendly.”
Still, cast members will be spread out across the stage during scenes as much as possible, and backstage precautions have been put in place.
“Lion King Jr.” is Disney’s authorized high school rendition of the 1994 animated and 2019 live-action films and the 1997 Broadway production. It tells the story of Simba, a young lion who is heir to his father Musfasa’s throne. But Simba’s evil Uncle Scar wants the pride leadership for himself, and devises a plot that lures Simba and Musafa into a dangerous situation that leaves Musafa dead. Simba escapes and must leave his home, but returns as an adult to reclaim his birthright with the help of friends.
Robinson said “Lion King Jr.” was selected because he knew the 23-member WHS cast had the talent to pull off the character acting required and because he wanted to try something different for the annual spring production.
“I think it is important to expose students to a wide array of theater throughout their high school careers, and ‘The Lion King’ just made sense,” he said. “This show has a lot of technical aspects that would challenge the students in new ways, and they have definitely risen to the challenge.”
Olivia Young, who plays Young Simba, has a voice suited to a pop sound, natural dancing talent, and stage experience, Robinson said. “She was the person who we trusted the most to master the technical elements of the show,” he said.
And Garrett Brown, who plays Mufasa, has a natural theater talent, displays excellent vocals, and shows the instincts and subtleties required for his performance, Robinson added.
As for Mason Felzer, who is cast as the venomous Scar, “Once he started singing he brought out this chilling darkness in his character. It was also a different take on Scar, which I found exciting as a director,” the director said.
Adult Simba is played by Carson Wenger, who Robinson said shows talent and potential. “It takes a lot for a freshman to get the lead role in a musical, and that, alone, should tell you something about (him) as a performer,” Robinson said.
He admitted to worrying that the stage magic originally created by cast members returning from the canceled 2020 production would be gone. “Instead, they embraced the new cast members and hit the ground running,” Robinson said. “We have had great energy and focus throughout this process…I think, by the end of this, everyone will be proud of what we have accomplished.”
General admission for the live production is $10; the online streaming event is $20.
All presale tickets will be sold through www.showtix4U.com. Remaining tickets will be sold at the door.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.