ST. GEORGE — It’s a Friday afternoon at Tuacahn’s Indoor Hafen Theater, and Abigail Pearson stands in the center of a row of seats. She is wearing a mask and holding a microphone as she directs a cast of over 50 young actors preparing to take the stage this week for a presentation of Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.”
Live theater is a rare sight during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since Tuacahn Amphitheatre recently announced they were postponing their 2020 season of Broadway-style shows.
But these kids, many of whom were cast in Tuacahn’s production of “Annie” slated for this year, really wanted a chance to share their talents and passion for the stage with a live audience.
To that end, Tara Griffith, a mother of two girls who were cast in “Annie,” decided to put together a production team, secure the rights to a show and provide an opportunity for young actors to take the stage during a summer with relatively few options for them to perform.
And interest was high. Griffith said that approximately 70 kids showed up to auditions for the junior version of a Disney classic.
“We were floored,” Griffith said of the turnout.
The chosen cast features 53 kids, most of whom are veteran stage performers from Tuacahn and other local community theater productions.
Because of their previous stage experience, the show’s music director, Rachel Cox, said that audiences are going to see a much higher caliber production than they might expect from a “junior” show.
“This cast has really been incredible,” Cox said. “The leads, though it’s a junior show, are a lot of really professional kids.”
Erica Bryce, one of the show’s choreographers, agreed with Cox, adding that the kids were so easy to work with, which helped them put the show together in a short period of time.
“I’m pretty proud of these kids for pulling this off in six weeks,” Bryce said. “I think we’ve put together a pretty good show, and I think it’s because of these kids.”
In addition to the talented cast, the production team said they were all helped along by the amazing Southern Utah theater community who all chipped in, in various ways, from being able to use the Hafen Theater to borrowing the majority of the costumes from Cedar City Children’s Musical Theatre.
“The generosity of everybody we have come in contact with has been absolutely amazing,” said Pearson, who is directing the production.
Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” varies very little from the original stage production, Cox said, adding that the message of the show is really powerful and something she feels will resonate with audiences.
“You have the full sense of the depth of hope and then hopelessness and then of new hope,” Cox said. “I think it is very applicable to this time we are all living in, and we all need some hope right now.”
The show will run this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., as well as a matinee Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Indoor Hafen Theater, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins. Tickets are $10 per person and can be purchased online or at the door.
Throughout rehearsals, production staff and children have been wearing masks (when not on stage) and doing their best to stay safe while also trying to share their passion for singing, dancing and acting, Cox said.
As far as the audience goes, the 480-seat Hafen Theater will only be sold at half-capacity, which will allow for social distancing between groups. Masks are highly suggested for audiences members as well.
- What: Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.”
- When: Thursday-Saturday, July 16-18, 7 p.m.; Saturday matinee, 2 p.m.
- Where: Tuacahn’s Indoor Hafen Theater, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins.
- Cost: $10
- Purchase tickets: Online or at the door.
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