Friday, April 22, 2016

The Lion King Was the Cat's Meow

Thursday evening, Emmet Belknap students put on the first of three sellout performances of "The Lion King" in the auditorium at their school. With a cast of 51 and a student crew of 25 (including one of my twins, IdaLena Bacon), the young thespians treated us to all the talent bubbling in their veins. Under direction of Kelly Tokash, with assistance from Timothy Martin, Naomi Moore, Katie Merrill, and countless others, "The Lion King" was enjoyable for all.

The first thing to remember with the show at Emmet is the fact that these kids are putting everything they have into their performance. These musicals are a proving ground for the big productions that they will be in once they get to the high school. If last night's performance is any indication, the future of the Lockport High School Drama Club is very bright.

The starring role of the mighty king of the jungle is split between two actors -- Ben Sielski as the young Simba and Ethan Koplas as the mature lion in the second half of the show. Sielski took on a lion's share (yes, pun intended) of the acting in the first act. He plays it straight from the pages of the script and delivers a flawless performance as the young Simba. At a time when most children are just finding their voices, Ben sings with no hint of nerves and captures the spirit of a young man on the verge of a coming maturity.

As always, Ethan Koplas brings a little of his own off-beat personality to the stage. There always seems to be a gleam in his eyes that he's up to no good, but he hits his marks and delivers his lines on cue. He snuck around during the first act incognito as a member of the chorus. Somehow, I missed when the switchover between Koplas and Sielski took place. The rest of the actors on stage created enough of a diversion to pull attention away from the change. Now, that's some good stage presence.

Kennedy Doran and Caitlin Kelley shared the roles of young Nala and mature Nala, respectively. Kennedy was humorous in her first act role as Simba's best friend. Her mannerisms on stage were just as effective as the recitation of her lines. Meanwhile, Caitlin played just as fun-loving a Nala as her younger version with a touch of maturity to bring Simba back into the pride.

Aden Benson was a perfect choice for the evil Scar. Maybe it's the flowing mane that Benson sports in real life, or maybe it's the dark, searing eyes that he stares at you with which gives you the feeling he could be the nemesis of the play. In reality, he's a really nice kid, so it was fun to see him play the evil guy.
Aden Benson as "Scar" drops "Mufasa" (Nicholas Pickard)
from the valley ledge. Photo by Gary Thompson.

Zazu was a crazy role right from the very beginning. Mackenzie Phelps, with her feathered boa flew about the stage making sure everything was in order. She had answers for everything as advisor to king Mufasa, and later to Simba. I thought she had the second best costume of the show. I loved the blue feathers and orange tights.

Speaking of great costumes, if you missed Michael Eakes as Pumbaa, you really missed a great costume. Together with Hannah Wallace as Timon, they provided the comic relief in a rather dark-ish play. Their rendition of "Hakuna Matata" was just as funny as Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. They were genuinely very funny. An added bonus was the incredible singing of Eakes. That young man can really sing. The whole cast can.

Michael Eakes, Ben Sielski, and Hannah Wallace perform
"Hakuna Matata." Photo by Gary Thompson.
Keagan Stevens as Ed, the craziest of the hyenas, was eerily reminiscent of the movie portrayal. Obviously, some of these young actors and actresses watched the movie and picked up some of the nuances for their roles. Additionally, great work by the director to prepare these kids for their roles was just as vital.

The musical used five actresses to fulfill the role of Rafiki. This gave more kids the chance to shine on stage. Allison Gueli, Nadia Quader, Ava Schubauer, Marissa Taylor, and Brianna Garcia did a more than capable job. Directly front and center, they filled the audience in on the goings on of Pride Rock. Collectively, they did a great job singing, dancing and acting.

"Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" Photo by Craig Bacon
So, what were the highlights for me? Obviously the song, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" was a biggie. It's a very well known song and these kids sang wonderfully. When the music is that well known, it is sometimes difficult to escape that shadow. The kids at Emmet Belknap showed they were able to do just that. Along with the accompanying dance (my daughter, Patience Bacon was part of that), the mood was set exactly as it should. I still can't get it out of my head, though that could be from the repeated practice at home.

Mufasa's voice-over when Simba is looking into the pool of water was really cool. Nicholas Pickard's voice echoed through the auditorium as he spoke from the spirit world to his son, Simba. The deep, blue stage lighting  at the same time added to the ambiance. The whole scene was very well done.

The Lion King roared at Emmet Belknap auditorium.
Photo by Craig Bacon
The actors and actresses of Emmet Belknap should be proud of their efforts in "The Lion King." From acting and singing, to moving set pieces around on stage, these kids are learning what it takes to put on a successful show. With all the experience they've gained at the Intermediate Level, we should be more than delighted with their output when they're taking bows on stage as members of the Lockport High School.