Up-roar-ious applause for ‘Lion King, Jr.’

By on February 8, 2017
Members of the cast of EPAC’s “Lion King, Jr.” (front row, left to right) Maya Burdick as Nala, Katie Latta as Rafiki, and Alexander Hamel as Young Simba; (back row, l-r) Miguel Prysakar as Simba, Liam Roy as Scar, and Olivia Eichler as Young Nala. The show opened Feb. 3 and runs through the 19th. (Photos by Suzette Wenger/LNP)

Members of the cast of EPAC’s “Lion King, Jr.” (front row, left to right) Maya Burdick as Nala, Katie Latta as Rafiki, and Alexander Hamel as Young Simba; (back row, l-r) Miguel Prysakar as Simba, Liam Roy as Scar, and Olivia Eichler as Young Nala. The show opened Feb. 3 and runs through the 19th. (Photos by Suzette Wenger/LNP)

When “The Lion King” hit the screens in 1994, Walt Disney Animation Studios was at its zenith of a renaissance, which during preceding years brought “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Prior to “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, the king of animation had been in a bit of a rut.

“The Lion King” was the highest grossing film of the year in ‘94 and brought in $763 million at the box office. But, it was a sort of beginning-of-the-end scenario playing out with Disney animation. “The Lion King” was followed up by “Pocahontas,” “Hercules,” and “Mulan,” all not without merit, but nowhere near as successful (and memorable) as the story of Simba. Eventually, Walt Disney Animation Studios teamed up with Pixar to create their memorable post-renaissance films (with exceptions like “Lilo & Stitch” and “Frozen”).

Simba’s tale took center stage Friday, Feb. 3, as “Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” opened the 2017 season of shows at EPAC. I’d be remiss here if I didn’t address a fact my wife loves to pontificate. “The Lion King” is merely a retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” So, with that said, the story…

After meeting the animal inhabitants of Pride Rock in the opening number “Circle of Life” theatregoers are introduced to Scar (Liam Roy), the uncle of the newborn Simba and brother of the king, Mufasa (Cameron Snelbaker). Scar is jealous and power hungry; he devises a plan to have the young Simba (Alexander Hamel) and Mufasa trampled to death in a Wildebeest stampede. It fails to kill the younger lion, but Scar convinces Simba to flee to the jungle where he meets the comedic pairing of Timon (William Sensenig) and Pumba (Brett Devlin).

“Hakuna Matata” is how he spends his days until the grown Simba (Miguel Prysakar) meets his old friend Nala (Maya Burdick), who reports the devastation in his homeland under Scar’s rule. The animals are running out of food since Scar has aligned with the menacing hyenas (Niko Chasser as Shenzi, Wyatt Burdick as Banzai, and Andrew Hagy as the idiotic Ed). Just like the movie, Simba returns to Pride Rock and assumes the mantle of king.

 Katie Latta (center), who plays Rafiki, in EPAC’s “Disney’s Lion King, Jr.,” is pictured with (from left) Keith Eyrich, props; Kate Willman, costumes; and Jill Kurtz and Mike Rhoads, sets, at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.


Katie Latta (center), who plays Rafiki, in EPAC’s “Disney’s Lion King, Jr.,” is pictured with (from left) Keith Eyrich, props; Kate Willman, costumes; and Jill Kurtz and Mike Rhoads, sets, at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.

The show ends with what is now becoming a Kids4Kids signature event. Co-choreographer Kristin Pontz fashioned an original dance routine featuring the entire cast, which gets the crowd standing and clapping.

Despite some opening night jitters, the cast of this production shone magically, from the eager and mischievous hyenas to the commanding voices of the singing leads. To name one voice as the standout is impossible, so I’ll start with the one that hits the audience first.

Kathleen “Katie” Latta is Rafiki, the mandrill monkey who serves as the story’s wise man. Latta’s voice is powerful and commanding; her presence grabs the attention of the viewer like no other character. When it comes to the lionesses, Burdick displays her incredible vocal talent in the second act with “Shadowlands.”

No one actor can steal the show in this fast-paced, epic tale, but there surely is a crowd favorite after three successful runs. Kids seem to be gravitating to Scar; Roy has been seen in previous EPAC productions where he was one of Ursula’s sneaky eels in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” and alongside Jafar as Iago in “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.”

Stepping in the front door of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre visitors are transported to another land. I believe as much effort went into decorating the lobby as did creating the set! Hand cut silhouettes of Serengeti animals stand over the main entrance, jungle vines surround a projection of the show’s logo, and African art fills every available space. The set is simple, but complex, beautifully painted and equipped with a couple of tricks managed by the young actors and their backstage crew.

This production goes above and beyond merely putting on a show; with face painting, a photo booth with props, and intermission trivia, the “Disney’s Lion King Jr.” at EPAC is interactive family fun.

Visitors who are feeling lucky can buy raffle tickets for a show poster signed by the entire cast. Kids can enjoy Prideland Punch in a souvenir monkey, elephant, tiger, or, of course, lion cup. I bought candy grams — Skittles and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-for my two favorite cast members,* who will receive them at the end of each weekend’s run. There are even lion and lioness headbands parents can buy their kids &tstr; or themselves!

As with many of these productions, tickets go fast. Opening weekend was sold out, but tickets are still available for future shows.

It is inevitable. Veteran Kids4Kids Director Irving Gonzalez will, at some time, bite off more than he can chew. This is just not that time. Once again, the director’s brilliant ability to command a cast of 70 talented children has resulted in a feel-good event, which should not be missed. With each show — Gonzalez now has six Kids4Kids productions under his belt — he sets the bar higher and higher for himself, his crew, and performers. The shows under his watch are an amazing testament to what can be accomplished with enough drive, passion, and compassion.

Dollar for dollar, “Disney’s Lion King Jr.” at EPAC is the best family entertainment in Lancaster County and is sure to please visitors of all ages.

*Editor’s note: Michael C. Upton’s two youngest children are cast members — the ostrich and a hyena.

The show runs through Feb. 19 at EPAC’s Sharadin Bigler Theater, located at 320 Cocalico St., Ephrata. Tickets can be purchased at ephrataperformingartscenter.com or by calling 733-7966 x1.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

Liam Roy (left) as Scar and Alexander Hamel as Young Simba in “Lion King, Jr.”

Liam Roy (left) as Scar and Alexander Hamel as Young Simba in “Lion King, Jr.”

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