Cast members in their costumes walked in Oak Harbor’s Fouth of July parade with the Whidbey Playhouse float. Front row left to right: Brynn Schmid as Pumbaa, Alora Van Auken as a lioness, Jessica Turner as Rafiki and Elizabeth Löf as Sarifina. (Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

Cast members in their costumes walked in Oak Harbor’s Fouth of July parade with the Whidbey Playhouse float. Front row left to right: Brynn Schmid as Pumbaa, Alora Van Auken as a lioness, Jessica Turner as Rafiki and Elizabeth Löf as Sarifina. (Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

Journey into the African savanna

Disney’s The Lion King Jr. showing at Whidbey Playhouse through July 28

An adventurous young lion club, a scarred bitter lion, a “farty warthog,” a singing lioness and more familiar, beloved characters from Disney’s Lion King will be portrayed by the young Whidbey Playhouse cast in the The Lion King Jr. production running July 12-28.

Director Tatyana Moore has witnessed the 43 cast members over the past five weeks grow and learn together during many hours of practice. At this point, they also know not only their own lines, but each other’s.

The play tells the journey of Simba, a young and innocent club not ready to shoulder the burdens of being a king. Along his way to fulfill his destiny he meets lioness Nala, spunky meerkat Timon and lovable warthog Pumbaa. Eventually, he must confront his uncle Scar to save the Pridelands.

At the last rehearsal before opening night on Friday, July 12, the actors had some fun with a “switch it up” day. Moore and assistant director Brenden Darnell put names in a hat, shuffled it up and announced which character the actor would be swapping with for the duration of practice.

Smiles and laughs ensued as selections lead to surprises, such as Scar’s role — Grant Steller — would be trading places with director Darnell for the evening.

Spending so many hours a day with each other since casting, the crew got to know each other pretty well, said Steller, who is a student at Coupeville High School and now in his second theater production.

From left, Olivia Valencia, who plays a mouse, lioness Khloe Ramos and elephant Gwyneth Sellers. The cast members were trying out new characters at a July 10 rehearsal.
                                (Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

From left, Olivia Valencia, who plays a mouse, lioness Khloe Ramos and elephant Gwyneth Sellers. The cast members were trying out new characters at a July 10 rehearsal. (Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

“Rehearsals have been extremely fun. It’s combining learning with fun,” he said. His role, Scar, has some of the most lines, at 70.

“Scar is honestly the most fun role that I could have,” Steller said.

Though the sour, brooding beast is opposite of his real-life personality, he said, Steller has had a good time learning about the treacherous creature.

Who perhaps is simply misunderstood.

“I wanted to show him in a different light. Scar actually has a back story,” Steller said. “I try to convey he’s not all bad. I try to portray the anti-hero perspective.”

Moore did some research online on the history between Scar and his brother, Mufasa, and she said she found that one legend is the namesake injury of Scar was a result of a hunting trip gone wrong. Scar, the elder and first in line for throne, risked his life to save his brother and ended up with a permanent injury preventing him from his “rightful” place as ruler.

“He would have been king,” Steller said.

Disney villains in generally are well-fleshed out, according to Moore said. She was impressed by the way Disney scripted the Jr. production, keeping classic songs from the 1994 film such as “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and adding in Broadway production songs as well. Something else new is Nala gets a song of her own, Moore said.

Moore, who directed Little Mermaid Jr. last year, was also impressed with the talent and knowledge of those who auditioned for this year’s production.

Olivia Valencia practices on stage. She was cast as Mouse. (Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

Olivia Valencia practices on stage. She was cast as Mouse. (Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

“They really impressed me with what they brought to the table,” she said.

Pumbaa, played by Brynn Schmid, is described by Schmid as the comic relief and a “farty warthog.”

Schmid is entering ninth grade at Coupeville High School and says Lion King is one of her favorite Disney movies.

“It’s just a blast,” she said. While the moments leading up to performances can be terrifying with stage jitters, in the end, “the lights and the audience — you become one with them,” she said.

•Show times are 7:30 p.m. for Friday and Saturday evening performances and 2:30 p.m. for Sunday matinees. For more information call the box office at 360-679-2237 or email office@whidbeyplayhouse.com. Tickets are adults $12, youth $8 and can be purchased online at www.whidbeyplayhouse.com or at the Box Office.

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