Hakuna Matata — it means no worries, and the audience certainly had no worries during the Lawton Community Theatre’s production of The Lion King Jr. The theatre’s summer camp culminated in four showings of The Lion King Jr. Aug. 13 - 16.
The show opened to a packed house - or as packed as it could be with social distancing rules in place. Many seats were taped off to make sure the audience adhered to the rules and masks were also required by the audience and most of the cast.
From the beginning, the audience was wowed with creative costumes, great set design, beautiful voices, and wonderful choreography.
The Lion King Jr. is based on Disney’s 1994 animated film, which tells the story of the adventures of a curious cub named Simba, played by Alex Rodriguez and Huntley Kreutziger as young Simba, as he struggles to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and his destiny as king. After Simba’s dad, Mufasa, portrayed by William Guill, dies, the young lion runs away from home and encounters the charismatic meerkat Timon played by Ben Austin and lovable warthog Pumbaa, played by Jed Lee. To claim his rightful place on the throne and save his beloved Pridelands, Simba must find his inner strength and confront his evil Uncle Scar, played by Chandler Moncrieff. The Lion King Jr. features classic songs from the 1994 film such as “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The show opens with Rafiki, played by Emmalee Hamilton, chanting in Zulu and the audience immediately knows they’re in for a treat. As the sun rises, a giraffe (local middle school student Aiden Guill) makes his way across the stage, followed by the rest of the safari animals. Lionesses and lion cubs (one played by local elementary student Reilly Guill) make their way from below the stage and stalk their way up the steps and across the stage. Pride Rock stands tall in the background, looming over the safari animals, as Mufasa (Guill), king of the Pride Lands, Queen Sarabi, played by Jessica Diley, and Rafiki climb up on top to present Simba as future king.
Guill gave a powerful performance as Mufasa, king of the Pridelands. When he died, audience members could be seen wiping their eyes, and one could imagine the scene took them to their own childhoods when they first saw Mufasa die in the animated classic film. Guill said he was disappointed when he found out that the virus pandemic ruined his musical theatre summer plans, but he was excited when he found out the Lawton Community Theatre was planning their own camp and musical.
“I love to act and sing,” Guill said. “I was excited when I got a call back for Simba because I knew he got to sing ‘Hakuna Matata.’ When I found out I got Mufasa I was really happy because I knew I’d still get to sing. My future plans are to go to college for musical theatre and band.”
In “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” Kreutziger shows off his vocals as well as his choreography skills, but in “Hakuna Matata,” he really shows what his voice can do with a wider range and the audience fell in love with him. This is only Kreutziger’s second big role. He played Lord Farquaad in a production of Shrek The Musical last summer.
In the rather emotional music number, “He Lives in You,” Mufasa (Guill) lets Simba (Kreutziger) know that he will always be with him, no matter what. Later in the show, Rafiki performs a reprise of the number when the ensemble moves across stage shining flashlights to give the illusion that Mufasa is a projection above them as he tells Simba that he has forgotten who he is, and thus, has forgotten Mufasa.
Thankfully, the comedic moments add a lightheartedness to an otherwise sad story. At the beginning, Scar admits that he got the lion’s share of the brains but when it comes to brute strength, he’s at the shallow end of the gene pool. Moncrieff played a great Scar. The audience loved him.
Another funny scene was when young Nala (Julianne Thomas) says that she and Simba (Kreutziger) “better not be going any place lame” and need to figure out how to ditch the “dodo.”
The “dodo” Zazu was wonderfully portrayed by Cassandra Magrath. The audience immediately fell in love with her stage presence and great line delivery. Her comedic timing was impeccable.
When speaking of comedy, you can’t forget about Timon (Austin) and Pumbaa (Lee), who add their own brand of humor. Pumbaa says, “That’s my motto,” and Simba asks, “What’s a motto?” Timon answers, “Nothin’. What’s a motto with you?”
Austin embodies the personality of Timon and it’s no wonder he is highly sought after to play the role, per managing director of the Lawton Community Theatre Chance Harmon. Austin has played the role of Timon multiple times for different theatre productions of The Lion King Jr.
While the actors and actresses bring the characters to life, we can’t forget about the costumes. Every character is completely transformed. Sarabi is completely regal with her flowing headpiece and the royal gold multicolored outfit. Mufasa, grown-up Simba, and Scar each wore giant lion heads on top of their own heads, giving them a larger than life presence on stage. The hyenas wore all black, giving them a well-deserved menacing look.
All in all, it was a great show, from beginning to end.