St. Francis Middle School set to stage The Lion King Jr.

Production runs March 3rd and March 4th at Red Deer's Memorial Centre

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Students at St. Francis of Assisi Middle School are putting the finishing touches on their theatrical rendition of The Lion King Jr. The production runs at the Memorial Centre on March 3rd and 4th.

Doors open at 6:45 p.m. with the show beginning at 7:15 p.m.

Tickets are $10 per person or $25 for a family. Tickets are available at the St. Francis of Assisi Middle School office or at the door on the evening of the show.

“Well, it was a bit daunting,” said instructor and director Robert Ford of the project, as of course The Lion King is such a well-loved classic production recognized around the world with those instantly-recognizable songs. He added he waited a couple of years until he knew he had the right students for the parts, and then it was ‘go time’.

“So basically, it’s been in the works for about two years,” he said, adding the cast numbers about 67 students. Altogether there are about 130 students involved which includes various crews lending their talents to the show as well from Grade 6 through to Grade 9.

‘I’m directing, producing, choreographing,” he added with a laugh, adding the process has ultimately been, “Pretty darn fantastic.”

Ford said the script is from the New York based Music Theatre International. “They are some of the best people out there to work with – it doesn’t matter the level, they are just great,” he said, adding they had a rendition of The Lion King that was basically written almost exclusively for students in the middle school age group.

“It’s exactly the same songs and exactly the same story.” Folks will enjoy all the classic hits from I Just Can’t Wait to be King, Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata to Can You Feel the Love Tonight.

According to a synopsis, the story is a lively stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning 1994 Disney film.

The Lion King is the story of a young lion prince living in the flourishing African Pride Lands.

Born into the royal family, precocious cub Simba spends his days exploring the sprawling savanna grasslands and idolizing his kingly father, Mufasa, while youthfully shirking the responsibility his position in life requires.

“When an unthinkable tragedy, orchestrated by Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar, takes his father’s life, Simba flees the Pride Lands, leaving his loss and the life he knew behind.

“Eventually companioned by two hilarious and unlikely friends, Simba starts anew. But when weight of responsibility and a desperate plea from the now ravaged Pride Lands come to find the adult prince, Simba must take on a formidable enemy, and fulfill his destiny to be king.”

Ford said with the film having been released in 1994, it’s of course a relatively new project to his young students.

“Last October, we had a movie night and we watched the whole movie with the cast,” he said. “It was great, because the kids were saying, ‘Oh, that’s where that song comes from!’

They didn’t realize Hakuna Matata, for example, was from this show. They’ve heard many of the songs like Circle of Life and I Just Can’t Wait to be King but they didn’t always know where they were from.”

As the production has taken shape, Ford couldn’t be more pleased with not only his superb set of actors, but also with the school’s overall community as a whole. He has even had former students of his, who are now in high school, volunteer to come back and help out with the show.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is seeing them grow into their roles and create a community and create a family,” he said. “I love seeing a 15-year-old student saying, ‘Okay, here’s how you do these things’ to someone who is 11. I love the fact that I’ve got a whole bunch of my high school kids who come back just to visit with all the kids they grew up with and to visit with me – that’s the thing that I am most proud of.

“It’s a continuation of what we started.”

Ultimately, he’s thrilled with how it’s turned out.

“It looks great, it sounds great – the kids are so ‘on’ and I’m just really happy with it.”

Again, tickets are available at the St. Francis of Assisi Middle School office or at the door on the evening of the show.

mark.weber@reddeerexpress.com