Weekender

Delta Middle Program students join the circle of life in ‘The Lion King Jr.’

Julian Tapia, left, plays Pumbaa and John Michael Rosenblum plays Timon in The Lion King Jr.
Julian Tapia, left, plays Pumbaa and John Michael Rosenblum plays Timon in The Lion King Jr. Photo provided

Let this be a lesson to students everywhere — always read the course descriptions closely.

Just because the title of the class is listed strictly as “theater” doesn’t mean that there won’t be some light singing and dancing involved. Such was the case for a few of the thespians who will grace the State College Delta Middle Program’s upcoming production of “The Lion King Jr.,” the school’s first musical.

After months of auditions, rehearsals and few cursory lessons in Swahili, the show will finally make its debut at 10 a.m. Jan. 13 at The State Theatre, with an encore performance later that evening.

Portraying the wild-eyed denizens of Pride Rock is a cast of 33 students, bringing new life and little bit of local flavor to the roles originated first in the Disney animated film and later, but no less animatedly, on a Broadway stage.

“They’re super excited about it,” Leah Mueller, the musical’s director, said.

Each of the kids in the class were required to audition so that Mueller could determine where they would fit inside the larger ensemble. Once the roles were assigned, the students took to the acting process with gusto.

That included taking a closer look at the lyrics.

Beyond the initial crash course in Swahili and Zulu, it was important to Mueller that the students understood the lyrics not only in terms of their more literal meaning, but in relation to the themes and poetry of the musical itself.

They discussed the parallels the story shared with “Hamlet” and had serious discussions about how the various animals of the kingdom would move or behave.

One affectation that came easily to the entire cast was the crazed laughter of the evil Scar’s henchmen, the hyenas.

“It’s hard to get them to stop,” Mueller said.

Behind the scenes, the production received assistance from an art class taught by Holly Foy. Her students produced nearly 150 costumes for the rotating menagerie of animals.

The students also banded together to create the sets and scenery that will adorn the stage.

“Kids came in on Saturdays to paint things. They’ve been working really hard,” Mueller said.

Those are the experiences that should last long beyond the sets or costumes.

“They’re learning how to communicate, how to be confident in life,” Mueller said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

IF YOU GO

  • What: Delta Middle Program’s “The Lion King Jr.”
  • When: 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Jan. 13
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.thestatetheatre.org
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