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Murray Journal

Longview student-actors journey through circle of life

Apr 30, 2022 11:56AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In the musical, “Disney’s The Lion King, Kids,” about 50 Longview third- through sixth-grade student-actors took the stage mid-March, sharing the adventures of a young lion and his friends living in the African savannah. 

It was a show where the savannah came to life on the school stage with Simba, Rafiki and other characters as they journeyed from Pride Rock to the jungle, singing memorable songs such as “The Circle of Life,” “I Just Can't Wait to Be King,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”

Teacher and director Jai-Dee Riches said it’s been a fun show to direct.

“I think the music is really fun and the storyline is an easy one for kids to get excited about and an easy one to cast because you don’t necessarily have to have boys’ and girls’ roles; you can cast anybody,” she said.

During the school assembly, several classmates were mouthing the words and moving to the music as they, too, were familiar with “The Lion King.”

“The principal chose it because it’s our 60th anniversary of our school and we chose a new mascot, the lion, last year. We’ve gone through several mascots; we were the lynx, but she said that is a solitary animal and we needed something that unifies us so the kids voted on it. This is a celebration of our new mascot for our school’s anniversary,” Riches said.

Auditions for the 45-minute show were held in December, then rehearsals started after winter break. Certain groups of cast members in a scene rehearsed on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school at 7:50 a.m.

“That’s bright and early for elementary school kids; they were so great and dedicated and came to work on a scene at a time,” she said, adding on Wednesdays, the whole cast stayed after school for two hours. “That’s when we all do our singing and dancing.”

While many of the costumes were basic colors with added animal print layers, students created staves or African animal heads for stick animals. Murray resident Raylene Jones sewed several of the more elaborate costumes, using some of the funding provided by Murray City Cultural Arts department’s $1,000 contribution that also paid for the right to use the musical.

Riches, who has directed six school district musicals, is a firm believer in the arts.

“It teaches them so many things. I have quite a few kids who said, ‘I just want to be on the stage crew.’ Then, right before the audition, I talked them into auditioning and all of them, even my shy ones…said they would do it again. Their parents have been surprised at how excited they are and a growth in them that they wouldn’t have had if they didn’t have this experience. I think they realize it’s OK to do things that are a bit scary and to challenge yourself and that you’ll be rewarded when you take that risk,” she said. “They’ve learned to rely on each other and to work together to support each other. It’s been good to see kids who don’t necessarily interact otherwise become friends.”

Riches also said being in theater has reached some students who have responded enthusiastically and have been engaged.

“A lot of them haven’t had the experience of going to theaters, especially during COVID. Two years in a kid’s life is a long time, so they may be opening their eyes to something they can enjoy whether they’re involved as actors or whether they go as supporters and just enjoy it,” she said. “It’s been fun to watch that happen and have their eyes open to it. I have always loved theater and was involved in theater. When I look back on my school days and being involved in those, they’re fond memories and it was something that sparked an interest for my whole life. I’m happy that I can share that with these kids and hopefully it’s something that will bring them joy and confidence, something that they’ll appreciate continuing to do in their lives.”