It’s not every day the stage at the Schaumburg Park District’s Community Recreation Center is transformed into an African savannah.
That’s exactly the plan when a cast of more than 80 performers sing, dance and act their way through The Lion King Jr.—one of the District’s largest theatrical undertakings. The show is set for Nov. 18-20 at the CRC, 505 N. Springinsguth Road.
Among challenges over the next several weeks is construction of a massive set—a job that will entail at least 150 hours of manpower.
“The Lion King Jr. is a show that has an iconic set with pieces like Pride Rock and the gorge,” said Adam Vandre, technical coordinator. “Much of the scenery is organic—we’re literally recreating grassland on stage.”
Sound and lighting, which includes projection detail and other high-tech elements, are expected to have taken at least 100 hours by opening night. The key to success is seamless transition between movements of scenery, while ensuring actors know their places amidst the changes.
“This is like a dance,” Cultural Arts Supervisor Beth Waller said during a recent rehearsal. “Everything is orchestrated to the last detail. You don’t want the audience to be aware of what’s going on behind the scenes.”
And the cast is facing its own challenge—learning to sing in the African language Zulu.
“Let’s all say it together— Ingonyama nengw' enamabala,” Rehearsal Assistant Keri Dahm instructs the cast as they practice the intro to Circle of Life. “This song is important. It’s the opener.”
Although the show includes seasoned actors with several District productions under their belts, The Lion King Jr. also features a few newcomers. One of those is Tony Walsh of Schaumburg who landed the role of Simba’s father, Mufasa,. Walsh said he was encouraged to audition by his sister, Paige Lovell, who plays the older Nala.
“We come from a musical family and I’ve always enjoyed doing this type of stuff at home,” said Walsh, 18. “I figured I’d try it at least once.”
Walsh is honored to have landed such a prestigious part in his first live stage show.
“Playing this character will be interesting,” he said. “Mufasa is protective of his son and takes care of his whole kingdom. I have to be both a king and a father for this performance.”
Performing in District musicals since he was 7, Dylan Carlyon, 9, is playing young Simba. Carlyon, who’s held roles in Peter Pan Jr. and Seussical Jr., looks forward to singing “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”
“I love being in Schaumburg Park District plays,” said Carlyon, of Elk Grove Village. “It’s so much fun standing up in front of people and saying my lines.”
His co-star, Isabelle Vallina, 9, finds inspiration in her character—the young Nala. Vallina has performed in six other District musicals.
“I like Nala’s confidence,” said Vallina, of Schaumburg. “She’s not afraid to be herself.”
Charlotte McGrath, 12, plays the straight-laced but loveable Zazu, Mufasa’s adviser. Despite her experience playing smaller roles in District productions such as Willy Wonka Jr., Mulan Jr., Wizard of Oz and Beauty and the Beast Jr., McGrath admits she’s nervous about her role.
“I’ve never really had a role like this,” McGrath said. “It’s going to be hard to remember my lines. But I’m excited and I think the show will turn out well.”
With so many different age ranges and roles among the cast, Waller takes great care to go over the rules before every rehearsal. Although plays are fun, she is quick to remind performers they also are hard work. The group will work together through about 25 rehearsals to ensure perfection by opening night.
“We have a lot to do over the next few weeks,” Waller tells her cast. “Some people get different parts than others, but we’ll all try to be the best we can be and have a wonderful show.”
Show times for The Lion King Jr. are 7 p.m., Nov. 18 and 19 and 2 p.m., Nov. 20. Tickets are $12 for adults, $7 for youth 12 and younger and free for children 2 and younger if being held.
For more information, call (847) 490-7020 or visit www.parkfun.com.