‘Lion King’ roars to NRHS stage this week

Published 9:22 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

Young Nansemond River High School actors will bring the beloved story of a young lion who would be king to the school stage.

The NRHS Performing Arts Company will present their spring production of “The Lion King” at 7 p.m. this Thursday through Saturday and April 26-28. There will also be special matinees for students at 10:45 a.m. this Friday and April 26-27.

The company features approximately 100 students who have been practicing “Hakuna Matata,” “Circle of Life” and other fan-favorite songs since late February, with help from other school departments to bring the classic to life.

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“This is the only thing where you see students from all walks of life coming in here and participating in something for a greater whole,” said Dr. Joleen Neighbours, NRHS theater director and Suffolk Public Schools fine arts facilitator. “If you want to see the best in students, then this is the place to come.”

The production is based on the Broadway adaption and will have actors leaping, twirling and cheering both on and off the stage.

“It’s a 360-degree experience,” said junior Felicia Josey, 16, who plays adult Nala, one of the show’s lead lions. “We’re in the whole auditorium. If you only see this once, then you’re probably going to miss something.”

Her fellow junior Amaya Wills, 16, is pulling double-duty as both Sarabi, wife of Mufasa King of the Pride Lands, and the show’s choreographer. She described her choreographic debut as a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, ballet and other infusions for a dynamic performance with colorful props and scenery.

“It’s overwhelming, seeing everything come together into a big masterpiece,” Amaya said.

Josey admitted that her role as Nala was a dream come true for her as well.

“I’ve seen ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway twice, and I absolutely loved it,” she said.

The stage adaptation features original songs and character changes. Rafiki, the wise mandrill healer who guides the young king-to-be, Simba, is traditionally played by a woman on stage.

“She uplifts everybody and is a great mentor,” said senior MacKenzie Sheppard, 17, who has been practicing the moves, steps and accent of the character with her trademark staff.

Timon and Pumbaa, the laugh-out-loud meerkat and warthog pair who become inseparable to Simba, will be brought to the stage by sophomores Arionne Cole, 16, and Emma Cox, 15. Arionne said she enjoys playing a character that’s as goofy and fun as she is.

“He’s definitely tries to be a know-it-all, but he doesn’t really ‘know it all,’” she said about the wise-cracking meerkat.

On the other hoof, Pumbaa has a lot of heart and while he does some foolish things in the story, it’s always with good intentions, according to Emma. The sophomore has enjoyed getting into character as the whole-hearted warthog.

“It’s unique having a cast of people only playing animals the entire time,” she said, with Zazu’s costume bearing sleeves fashioned like wings, and the lion actors wearing head pieces and capes.

Sophomore Armon Davis, 16, will put on a lion’s cloak as the show’s adult Simba, a character he’s always wanted to play with a fascinating arc towards kingship, Davis said.

Between the characters, costumes and dance routines, the lead actor is “through the roof.”

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before,” he said.

Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students ages 4 and older. Call Neighbours at 923-4101 for more information.