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'The Lion King' prepares to roar

White Rock Children's Choir leaps to challenge of Broadway show
Cierra Van Nes as Zazu (left) joins Josh Bogert and Jon Bogert – as regal lion brothers Mufasa and Scar – and other cast members of the upcoming White Rock Children's Choir production of The Lion King (Jr.).

There couldn't be a better fit for a theatrical production by the White Rock Children's Choir.

The energetic and dynamic group is almost literally leaping to the challenge of bringing Disney's The Lion King (Jr.) to the stage of Panorama Ridge Secondary (13220 64 Ave.) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 5, and Friday, May 6, and Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The version they're performing has most of the music, witty humour, and emotional pull of the property – and its virtually Shakespearian dramatic core.

The story of young lion cub Simba, forced to find his way in the world before achieving his ultimate destiny, has – due to the celebrated Broadway production directed by Julie Taymor – long transcended its animated movie origins to become an enduring theatre piece.

For all the commerciality, showbiz 'schtick' and Disney-cuteness of the original enterprise, Elton John and Tim Rice's score and Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi's book remain notable for incorporating elements of African culture and folklore – and this has only been extended in its theatrical re-envisioning.

And that makes it seem tailor-made for a choir which has long embraced African choral harmony and percussion in performances, thanks to the unique understanding and experience of choir director and founder Sarona Mynhardt – herself of South African heritage.

"It's great to be working with a choir to bring out the harmonies of a show like this – the kids are used to singing parts and they're used to singing African music," Mynhardt said.

"They love it because the whole body is involved – it feels good because (in African tradition) the movement is part of daily life and part of every ceremony."

Emphasizing the family nature of the current undertaking is the co-direction and production by the mother-daughter team of Mynhardt and her daughter Marderi (a WRCC alumnus who has established herself as a theatre artist and choreographer in her own right).

"All the kids are having a great time," Marderi said. "We're at that stage of rehearsal where they're figuring out all the different pieces – this is where I have to change and this is where I have to stand. They're on stage all the time, having a responsibility for every portion of the show. And I'm so proud of the way our main ensemble is working."

"They're experiencing what being part of a true Broadway cast is like," Mynhardt said. "The kids become friends – they truly bond."

The WRCC will field a total of 85 performers aged from eight to 17 for The Lion King – including 25 main cast members, plus a supporting chorus of some 30 members of the group's Prelude choir, and another 30 from the Concert choir.

And there's another family connection in this show that cannot be ignored – and another major selling point for this show.

Taking the role of the story's first Lion King – Mufasa – is 15 year-old WRCC veteran, singer-songwriter and emerging teen-idol Josh Bogert (of the Family Channel-Disney Channel hit Backstage), while the role of his ambitious brother Scar is taken by Bogert's actual brother Jon (who, at 17, is already a noted trumpet player and composer-arranger who has just been accepted into the composition program at UBC).

"It was very important to Josh to be able to do this and he's been working hard on it," Mynhardt said, while acknowledging laughingly that, with his burgeoning career, this may be the last chance for local audiences to see him in performance at such an affordable price.

"And Jon is an incredible actor – it's been great watching them work on the conflict between their characters, because in real life they're great friends and loving brothers who never seem to be angry with each other."

The show affords great opportunities to all the cast, whether they're playing main roles, creating environments all the way from Pride Rock to the grasslands and the jungle, or suggesting the many varieties of birds and animals.

Instead of opting for extremely costly set pieces and masks, the directors explain, WRCC's production is making the most of abstract costuming, African jewelry and face paint, that with a few additions and subtractions – and the right body language – can suggest all the many creatures who populate the plot.

Typical of the flexibility of  this approach, Young Simba (Trey Foreman) morphs into his adult self (Shamus Li) during a musical number, while Lauren Legiehn's characterization of young lioness Nala is extended by Ava Brotherston's playing of the older Nala (which promises an emotional highlight in her singing of Shadow Land).

The long-tailed mandrill Rafiki is played by Allie Ho, with Cierra Van Nes taking the role of red-billed hornbill Zazu, major-domo to the Lion Kings; while Emma Verret embodies Simba's mother, Sarabi, and Nicole Brotherston evokes Nala's mother, Sarafina.

And, of course – this being The Lion King – the importance of comedy relief is not neglected, with Eden Chipperfield, Marie Cusson and David Li making the most of hyena trio Banzai, Shenzi and Ed, and Bryna McGarrigle and Megan Davidson taking every opportunity to explore the comic possibilities of meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa.

Tickets ($20, $17 students and seniors) are available from 604-536-0236 or by emailing