Woodford Theatre education director Vanessa Becker Weig has been waiting 20 years to give students an opportunity to produce what she describes as “the ultimate in musical theatre.” A two-act adaptation of Disney’s “The Lion King” allows her cast of teens and preteens to tell a story with music, song and dance while sharing a culture and employing some puppetry to entertain their audiences. Songs in “The Lion King Jr.” – especially those using African languages – are also helping Brodie Blair (Scar) to become a better performer because it’s “some of the hardest music I’ve ever had to learn,” he says. “No other musical has this type of music … It’s so meaningful and it really hits you,” adds Rylie Sudduth (Shenzai). She and 40 other young thespians, ages 8 to 16, participated in this year’s Summer Academy at the Woodford Theatre. A three-week program, the Summer Academy gives young people an opportunity to learn from several guest artists. “We have a fantastic team of people teaching various” aspects of musical theatre, says Weig. Woodford Theatre Summer Academy students have gotten to participate in workshops on puppetry, movement and percussion instruments leading up to three onstage performances of “The Lion King Jr.” this weekend. Summer Academy music director Alyssa Sturgill, who also teaches theatre and vocal music classes at Woodford County Middle School, says she appreciates being able to learn about different aspects of musical theatre alongside her students. And these young thespians are embracing their opportunities to portray well-known – if not human – characters featured in “The Lion King” story. “Acting is being something that you aren’t,” says Afton Skeeters, “but this (musical) took it to a whole new level.” Being able to share the stage with very young actors has breathed life into this musical. “They bring energy,” says Emery Grimm, “and they’re always ready to do whatever the director says … and they’re so excited to do it.” During a break in rehearsals, 11-year-old Riley Caldwell talked about why she’s not nervous about being onstage. “I know that everybody’s going to be supportive – no matter what,” she explains. “It’s just fun doing it,” says 9-year-old Emma Harris when asked about her love of theatre. “I enjoy everything about (a musical) … You can dance, sing…” “Acting isn’t really being about being famous,” adds 12-year-old Connor Bybee. “…It’s about experiences and it’s about being able to perform and express yourself … and hopefully be able to entertain,” – and maybe even enlighten an older audience with a story about the circle of life. Advance general admission tickets ($15 for adults and $10 for students) for performances on Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 25, at 2 p.m. are available at the Woodford Theatre box office and online at woodfordtheatre.com.
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