The children’s show roars back to life with ‘Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.’

Stage 212 defies the pandemic to launch show first planned in ‘20

Stage 212 in La Salle planned a production of “Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” back in early 2020.

And, well, guess what happened.

Stage 212 has managed to work around the global pandemic and now the hit musical by Tim Rice and Elton John finally graces the La Salle stage. While this isn’t the first post-restriction children’s show – there was an outdoor showcase last year at Rotary Park – this nonetheless marks the Stage 212 kids’ first return to the indoor stage.

“This show has been so amazing to put together,” said Ella Johns, who is making her directorial debut. “Working with this group of dedicated and talented individuals has made this such an enjoyable experience. Getting to see the kids make friends during this entire experience has been so heartwarming, as well.”

Cast and crew alike are brimming with excitement because virtually everyone is familiar with the story of Simba, the lion cub whose ascent to leader is waylaid by treachery. Johns said “Lion King” was the first stage production she saw and, needless to say, most of the young cast have seen the animated Disney film. A lot.

“The kids knew all of the songs coming into this, which was so impressive,” Johns said. “However, the musical and movie have quite a few differences, and believe me, we hear all of the time, ‘Well, in the movie it happens like this...’ They have all adjusted very well.”

However, producer Jessica Kreiser has found more of the cast seem to have seen the live action remake released a few years ago. The stage version contains additional songs that are either completely new to the show or have lyrics added atop instrumental numbers from the film. Either way, there have been challenges for the cast to overcome.

“Then some of the songs include lyrics in Swahili,” Kreiser said, “so even the kids who are very familiar with the movie music are still being challenged with learning lyrics in a foreign language on top of learning their specific musical part.”

One of the reasons audiences will enjoy “The Lion King” is the ornate costumes, which Johns described as “so incredible and impressive.”

“It’s such a fun show, the music and costumes alone make it stand out from so many other children’s productions,” agreed Kreiser. “It is also always so great to see the growing talent in our area. The kids making up the cast and crew are so talented and hard working. Not only will this production be entertaining to all audience members, but our audience will enjoy seeing these performers grow throughout the years as they continue to perform in our community.”

The cast includes Leah Dzik as Rafiki, Romeo Cabrera as Mufasa, Nina Leffers as Sarabi, Rhyan Westermen as Zazu, Vienna Fitzpatrick as Scar, Carter Dzik as Simba, Liliana Cabrera as Nala, Jackson Layhew as Banzai, Gabby Smith as Shenzi, Payton Wren as Ed, Lainey Johns as Timon, Landon Balestri as Pumbaa and Ruby Stash, Clara Vaske, Jadyn Leone, Mary Craven and Ci Ci Verucchi as the Lionesses. The ensemble includes Bryson Boudreau, Dylan Kofoid, Gabe Hedgepeth, Bradley Betz and Gus Maier.

Assisting Johns and Kreiser are music director Nora Maier, choreographer Maddie Stanbury, costumer Mary Mauck, director/choreographer mentor Reid Tomasson and music director mentor Kevin Alleman.

“Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11 and Friday, Aug. 12, and at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13 and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14 at Stage 212, 700 First St., La Salle.

Tickets are $10 each and may be purchased at the box office 4-6 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m.–noon Saturday or by calling 815-224-3025 during the same hours. Tickets may also be purchased online by visiting Stage 212 will follow IDPH guidelines for Phase 5.

Thanks to a generous donation, “Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” is produced in partnership with Jaiden’s Tree of Hope Foundation. Funding is also provided in part by the Illinois Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation.

“Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.