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  • The “Lion King Jr.” cast includes (l-r) Madalynn Shepherd, Jason Coto, Sophia Curet, John Rafiq, Katelyn Zephir, Janelle Conway and MaKenna Fluhr.
    Caden Marin
    The “Lion King Jr.” cast includes (l-r) Madalynn Shepherd, Jason Coto, Sophia Curet, John Rafiq, Katelyn Zephir, Janelle Conway and MaKenna Fluhr.

Sunset Elementary Continues Circle Of Life With “The Lion King Jr.”

Judy Tacyn
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April 19, 2017

Disney’s “The Lion King” was released 23 years ago, but the story of Simba and Nala is still delighting children of all ages. Students from Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena will bring the Pride Lands onstage with its production of “The Lion King Jr.,” to be held April 28 and 29 at Chesapeake High School at 7:00pm.

Jill Beram-Liimatta, music educator at Sunset Elementary and “The Lion King Jr.” producer, said, “Unlike the movie, the live musical has portions that contain dancing and musical scenes that the movie does not include. I feel that our students and directors composed a production that extends each character’s personalities and their quirkiness.”

Fifth-grader John Rafiq pulls double duty as Mufasa and adult Simba. “I get to rule the kingdom!” John said. “My roles are very physical, but they are also very fun,” he said while noting the scene when Mufasa falls over the cliff and into the stampede.

John said that he loves acting and doesn’t mind memorizing lines. “We are not allowed to hold our scripts while rehearsing,” he said, “so we had better know our lines!”

After solo auditions, students began rehearsals in October 2016. Parent volunteers worked tirelessly to create adorable costumes and elaborate sets. Since every character is an animal, each costume had to be created.

“Our biggest assets are our parent and community members,” said Beram-Liimatta. “We have parents that are always willing to help and create the best product they can offer. Year after year, we have parents that have the skill to create costumes, build scenery and complete any item needed for a production. We are incredibly lucky and inspired by their creativity and attention to detail.”

MaKenna Fluhr plays the role of Pumbaa the warthog. “The Lion King Jr.” is the fifth-grader’s second production at Sunset Elementary. “My costume is very warm but awesome! Pumbaa is very fun to play,” she said.

Just like costumes, scenery is an integral part of the show. “What I believe is the beauty of this production is the structural scenery, coupled with exquisite costumes and impressive vocals and choreography,” added Beram-Liimatta. “This is where the show is unique and separate from the movie. Our backdrops are professional-grade backdrops that will highlight the darkness of Scar’s cave to the beauty of Timon, Pumba and Simba’s tropical home.”

Adult Nala was played by Sophia Curet, a fifth-grader who says she absolutely loves being in the school’s productions. First-time performer and third-grader Madalynn Shepherd plays the young Nala, a lioness betrothed to Simba. Other favorite characters, like Zazu, Scar and young Simba, are played by Kristopher Kraft (fourth grade), Katelyn Zephir (fourth grade) and Jayson Coto (fifth grade), respectively.

“It’s always interesting to watch younger thespians work through the joys and challenges learning a show, the music and the choreography,” said Beram-Liimatta. “What I feel is the most amazing standout is when rehearsals modulate into performances, and performances turn into a meaningful production where all the pieces fit together.

“This entire production centers around our families and the community. Without the support from our families, the community and our sponsors, this production would not be taking place,” added Beram-Liimatta. “I cannot praise our families enough for their efforts, creativity and willingness to help in every way possible. Their generosity is always on my mind.”

Tickets are available at www.showtix4u.com (search for “Sunset”). Hakuna matata!


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