The Lion King Junior

June 22, 2016 at 12:32 PM

‘The Lion King’ is familiar to young and old as a most successful, animated Disney movie. Maybe not so well known is that it is also a long-running theatre show.  Since it was first staged in London 17 years ago, ‘The Lion King’ has become the highest grossing stage show in history – even surpassing ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’

Whilst the show has yet to tour to New Zealand, the fortunate few who have seen it live on stage elsewhere say that it is an awe-inspiring spectacle of African rhythms and amazing costumes, with moments of heart-stopping drama tempered with a huge amount of fun! In short, a perfect choice for our boys! 

Shore Road may not be the West End or Broadway, but the Boys’ School version of this mightily appealing show is set to go down in Saint Kentigern history as one of the most visually engaging shows ever! 

When Disney first released ‘The Lion King Junior’ as an adaptation for younger students, Director of Music, Mrs Janet Grierson, knew immediately that this was a show that would have huge potential.  With its familiar, yet exciting score and the immense design possibilities for costumes and set, the show presented a fantastic challenge to produce an upbeat production with broad audience appeal.

One of the greatest challenges would be to transform young boys into a range of convincing African animals and so talented Head of Art, Mr Tom Barter was called on. With help from parents, Jacqui Higgins, Fleur Baker, Jo Baker, Anna Illingsworth and Lisa Graham, the most amazing animal headpieces and props were created to transform the JC Chalmers Hall into a convincing African Savanna! 

The story is well-known. The birth of young lion prince, Simba (Leo van Druten), pushes Scar (Quinn Thompson), his evil uncle, back to second in line to the throne. Bitter at his arrival, Scar plots to kill both Simba and his father, King Mufasa (Isaac Mellis-Glynn), opening the way to proclaim himself as King, but his plans become derailed, when unbeknown to him, Simba survives. 

The show opened with the imposing figure of Rafiki, majestically played by Benjamin Ross calling the animals to Lion Rock for Mufasa to present his new son. Benjamin was an imposing figure with strong vocals who commanded the stage each time he entered. As he sang ‘Circle of Life,’ the stage slowly filled with the most amazing animals from lions, zebras, gazelles and giraffes to a huge grey elephant and many more besides! The performance throughout was backed by a strong, off-stage choir all dressed in a rainbow of African colours. 

As Simba grows from young cub to lively young lion, his father, Mufasa warns Simba not to stray beyond the boundaries of Pridelands, putting the cheeky hornbill, Zasu (George Beca), who constantly flits across stage, to watch over him. Along with Nala (William King), the threesome head off, but the young lions shake off their minder as Simba brags, ‘I just can’t wait to be king.’ Leo proves that he has a fine singing voice for this role. 

At the forbidden elephant graveyard, they are cornered by three cackling hyenas (Benjamin Graham, Oscar van Druten, Nicholas Davies) who play the part to a tee. As they arrive on stage, we are once again reminded of the amazing work that went into costuming. 

Cross with Simba, Mufasa arrives to scare off the hyenas, telling Simba that being brave does not mean being reckless. He tells his son of the ‘Great Kings of the Past’ and how they watch over everything. ‘They live in you’, sung by Mufasa, is one of the more haunting songs of the show.    

Scar is never far away and Quinn delivers this role with due malevolence. In a despicable act, he leads Simba to a gorge, trapping him as a herd of wildebeest storm through. As his father attempts a rescue, Scar pushes Mufasa to his death, convincing the young lion that he has caused his father’s death. As Simba flees Pridelands, Scar instructs the hyenas to kill him but even they cannot be that cruel. 

Hungry and exhausted, Simba collapses and vultures move in for the kill – only to be scared off by a flatulent warthog, Pumbaa (Regan Nash) and fellow meerkat, Timon (Jack Webber). Regan and Jack bounce off each other in comic levity and also bring strong singing voices to the lively ‘Hakuna Matata’ as the introduce Simba to their laid back lifestyle.

Pridelands suffers under Scar’s tyrannical rule and even though he now has the position he coveted, he is still not happy and alarms Nala when he propositions her. Upset, she vows to seek help and the lionesses and Rafiki offer a blessing as Nala sings the mournful, ‘Shadowlands.’ William is to be applauded for this delivery. 

In the jungle, Pumbaa is chased by a lioness, when Simba steps in and recognises his childhood sweetheart, Nala. In singing, ‘Can you feel the love tonight,’ Simba and Nala are brought closer together and it is Nala who persuades Simba to have the courage to finally return and claim what is rightfully his.

The Boys’ School stages a production every second year. With a show as strong as this, two years seems a long time to wait for the next one! Congratulations to the boys involved – over 100 onstage and behind – you were fantastic! 

We extend our grateful thanks to all the staff and many parents who assisted behind the scenes. Putting on a production of this calibre requires a true team effort and the hard work certainly paid off; it was an amazing visual tapestry and a joy to watch!


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