Presented by Ovations Dance Repertory Company, Disney’s THE LION KING, JR. roars on to the stage at Dunedin High School in a limited, one-time performance on July 29. Get ready to be transported to the heart of the African savannah as young performers bring the beloved classic to life in an enchanting and unforgettable theatrical experience.
Ovations Dance Repertory Company’s rendition of THE LION KING, JR. promises to be a dazzling display of talent, creativity, and passion. The young cast, aged 5 to 18, have honed their skills by practicing three times a week for two months, preparing to take the audience on a magical journey through the iconic story.
At its core, THE LION KING, JR. is a touching story of friendship, courage, and discovering one’s true identity. As the young Simba navigates life’s challenges, the audience will be inspired by the universal lessons woven into the fabric of this extraordinary tale.
The musical features Nehanda Mutunhu as Rafiki, Shaun Jones as Mufasa, Abigail Barnhill as Sarabi, Lola Haeussner as Zazu, Jackson Settle as Scar, Jacob Pham as Young Simba, Mia Martinez as Young Nala, Julianna Spataro as Sarafina, Atlas Ugaz as Shenzi, Harper Tichenor as Banzai, Lucas Stavropoulos as Ed, Ava Stanziano as Timon, Gabby Meo as Pumbaa, Ashane Aluthwala as Simba, Abbey Turlington as Nala, and a supporting cast of lionesses, hyenas, and prideland’s animals.
From the iconic Pride Rock to the vibrant and lush landscapes of the African wilderness, the stage will be transformed into a mesmerizing world of wonder built by the parents of the cast. Spectacular costumes designed by Dr. Nhoc Pham and volunteers and masks from East Woods School, New York, by artist Marie Ucci, give Broadway a run for its money.
“When I saw my costume, I had this great feeling about my character, a special kind of confidence because there’s lots of fire and fabrics on me. I’m wearing motorcycle boots. I’m like a baddie. I actually feel like a villain with my costume,” said seventeen-year-old Jackson Settle (Scar). “It’s a transformation, absolutely.”
Eleven-year-old Jacob Pham said when his seamstress mother showed him the Young Simba costume, he was excited because it looked almost exactly like the Broadway version.
And that comparison is precisely what director and company founder Orlando Peña wants.
Peña said, “This has been a thrilling and exciting journey since the recreation of Ovations in Tampa. Through storms and the blazing beams of sunshine, I have embraced these kids as my own and these parents as my friends. In such a short time, the studio has grown so much that building expansion is on the horizon while we continue bringing top-tier Youth Performing Arts to this community. Our growth is driven by a passion for the Arts and the smiles of these talented children, and I am so thankful for our Ovations family!
“Enjoy the popular sounds of THE LION KING, JR., and the exceptional costumes and sets innovated by many volunteers who have worked tirelessly to execute the vision to create a magical afternoon for you.”
Settle, Pham, and thirteen-year-old Meo, discussing their experiences as Scar, Young Simba, and Pumbaa, said working with Peña has been an inspiring experience.
Pham, whose goal is to perform in LION KING on Broadway, said he’s having the most fun just being on stage. “I love it. Orlando is a great director. The most fun thing is dancing. My character is brave, fun, and sneaky. I’m really fun. I’m really energetic. I get to be myself in this musical.”
Meo said she adores her cast and working with the puppets on stage. She was shocked and thrilled when she received the news she was cast in the musical. Working inside and syncing herself to a puppet was a new experience for her. “Every single syllable has to be on point with the puppets.”
She said she has a lot of creative freedom in making Pumbaa her own. “When I’m doing ‘Hakuna Matata,’ I get to be the silliest, stupidest person you could be. Orlando has a way of making everyone so connected together. The moment you want in, and you’re new to the studio, everyone is so nice. When you often go to dance studios, everyone is really bratty to you.”
Settle said playing Scar was the antithesis of his real-life personality. “I’m probably one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Playing a villain is a very hard thing to do. Studying the lines and working with Mr. Orlando to get the Broadway look on stage has been my most fun and challenging. Scar is cocky and menacing but a little foolish. Deep down, he feels that he’s been neglected and abandoned by his parents. I think it’s easy for me to visualize that character and what it would be like in my life.”
Be prepared to be moved by the powerful vocals of the young performers as they belt out classic tunes like “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
Pham said his favorite song in the musical was “Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” “I just love the energy of young Simba in the show because it’s a really expressive song because he just can’t wait to be king.”
Settle said, “I think I speak for everyone when I say this. Everyone just wants to bring out a good show for all our friends and family, especially Orlando. I think it’s just a fun way to bond with each other, and it’s just been a great experience. I want to leave the audience wanting more – more quality shows from Orlando.”
Join Ovations Dance Repertory Company on July 29 at Dunedin High School at 11 am and 3 pm for THE LION KING, JR. Get $15 tickets at ovationsdanceoftampa.com. Hakuna Matata!