BANDON — New Artists Productions has outdone itself with its newest production.
And it's all about lions, Africa, and the Circle of Life.
As the lyrics suggest in Zulu: "Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba" (Here comes a lion, Father). "Sithi uhm ingonyama" (Oh yes, it's a lion).
Disney's "The Lion King Jr." opens Friday, April 13, at the Sprague Theater for a two weekend run. And the cast of 30 young actors has worked hard to get there.
From learning how to sing in African languages to acting with elaborate masks attached to their bodies with pvc pipe, these youths are putting their energies into a show that the audience will be sure to enjoy.
The play features classic songs from the 1994 film such as “Hakuna Matata” and the Academy Award winning “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
"The beauty of the music is that each cast group (Grassland People, Hyenas, Wildebeests, and Lionesses) is highlighted to not only enhance the experience, but also enhance the importance of each cast grouping to life on the African savanna," said Anita Almich, who with her husband Dan co-founded the youth program.
“We knew the cast could handle anything – dialogue, dance, and musical lyrics even in Swahili, Setswana, Zulu and Xhosa," she added. "The construction of Pride Rock, transforming the stage to the Pridelands, and the costuming presented a challenge as we tried to keep everything loyal and authentic to the 1994 movie and the live Broadway version."
Dan Almich made the detailed masks out of papier-mâché, and Anita sewed the costumes out of colorful African print fabric. Their son Daniel cut out much of the set, while cast members and other volunteers helped with set painting and construction to present the African savanna.
"We're hoping the opening scene will really grab everyone, with fireflies and stars," Dan said. "I'm thinking it's going to be a very special show."
Simba’s "Circle of Life" on the savanna is presented in a unique way – through music, dance, comedy and strong acting, Anita said. The musical follows Simba’s adventures as he reluctantly prepares for his ultimate destiny to become king. The audience experiences his journey from Pride Rock, his escape through the desert to the jungle where he matures to realize his responsibilities to his family and his pride, and his return to Pride Rock.
The scope of the production of "The Lion King Jr." was an enormous undertaking for New Artists families.
"It's the biggest production we've ever done," Dan said.
Cast members hail from Reedsport, North Bend, Coos Bay, Coquille, Bandon and Sixes and represent the depth and influence New Artists' youth theater has had on youths along the South Coast.
Volunteers for the production often come in the form of parents of cast members, but this show was also assisted by the talents of Bandon resident Bonnie Nixon and her daughter Sheila Langenberg, who helped design and paint Pride Rock, the Elephant Graveyard, the jungle and Scar's Cave.
"They have helped make this musical presentation like no other for New Artists,” said Anita. “Their imagination and ability to take a drawing from Dan and make it a visual reality was not only amazing, but so appreciated. The vibrant colors and unique staging easily display the hard work.”
In addition to working on her own, Nixon came to Saturday work parties and taught cast members painting techniques, papier-mâché and prop making. The cast, by helping on Saturdays, also put in extra efforts in creating scenery items and props to enhance the experience of the play.
Beyond the scenery and costuming, the stage lighting will be a new experience for the cast and the audience. Special LED lighting fixtures were purchased with funds donated by 100 Strong Bandon to create unique moods as the scenes change during the life of Simba. These lights will be used in conjunction with the lighting provided at the Sprague Theater.
“One of the wonders of the young actors in the group is their versatility and their ability to multi-task," Almich said. "We have several cast members who will play multiple roles throughout the production. It is so appreciated and such a joy to show the audience their abilities."
Rehearsals for the show started in December at Ocean Crest Elementary School.
The music was not a challenge for the Almichs, however, as Megan Wood (Rafiki) volunteered to teach the cast the music and help choreograph some of the songs.
"Megan attended 95 percent of the rehearsals whether her character was rehearsed or not," Almich said. "She wanted to make sure that every song was learned and presented properly and with enthusiasm."
Wood is a self-confessed Disney fanatic. For her senior graduation present last year, her mother Susan took her to New York City where they saw "The Lion King" on Broadway.
"I definitely was inspired by that, especially by the character of Rafiki," said Wood, who now attends Southwestern Oregon Community College. "I listened to how they were singing and also for ideas for my own character."
Wood said while the language has been a challenge, the cast has learned the songs and harmonies well.
"I remember really well the first day of rehearsals and the first phrase was this really long, complicated thing and I thought, 'This will be hard," she said. "But the kids have responded well and we've been practicing a lot. I'm really proud of them."
She's been involved with New Artists since 2012. Wood and her three siblings, Adam, Henry and Melody are in the show. Sibling actors is a theme for New Artists, as there are two other family groups in "The Lion King Jr."
"It's been so much fun, I love having them with me," she said. "This has been just a really good experience and I'm glad Dan and Anita asked me to help. I'm learning a lot."
While Wood may age out of the program soon, she still holds onto her dream. She's working on her transfer degree at Southwestern and after that hopes to study theater at a four-year college.
"My dream is to be on Broadway," she said.
Show dates for Disney's "The Lion King Jr." at the Sprague Community Theater, 1202 11th St. SW, are April 13, 14 and 15 and April 20, 21 and 22. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets priced at $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens, and $5 for students (K-12) are available at three outlets: Bandon Ace Hardware (in Radio Shack), Bandon Mercantile, and Olivia’s
Cottage. Tickets will also be available at the door before each show, or reserve by calling the Almichs at 541-347-2517.