In an effort to reinvigorate the theater program in the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District, a new theater group has formed at the James H. Vernon School. The middle school students are currently practicing for their first drama club production of “The Lion King Jr.,” which will debut on Friday, April 28. The drama group plans to perform one play a year.
The play is being directed by ESL teacher Teriann Chiappardi. It follows the classic Disney story, but has shorter songs. Chiappardi, who has run children’s community theater programs in the past, said she was excited about the school’s renewed interest in producing plays.
“We thought it would be a great experience for the kids to have interactions with different characters, and get to be dressed up and become this other person on stage — sort of let their imaginations run away with it,” she said. “They’re such hard workers, and they’re so excited and animated and they’re always looking toward what’s next.”
One unique twist the school added to the storyline was the casting of fifth-grader Nancy Abode as Mufasa, Simba’s father. “I’m lucky to be playing this part,” Nancy said. “It’s a really good part and it’s a big part of the story.”
Nancy, who had never sung in front of people before, said she was extremely nervous during the audition. Even so, she recalled, it went well. She’s ready to take on the role. “‘The Lion King’ is something that I’ve watched over and over again, so I thought it would be fun to do it,” she said.
Nancy’s younger brother, Elikem, is also part of the production. He will play one of the hyenas.
Rafiki the baboon is being played by fourth-grader Jane Myers, who has never performed in a play before. “My sister is an actress, and I thought maybe I would love acting,” she said. “My favorite part is ‘The Circle of Life.’” As for the hardest part? “The hardest part is remembering your lines and the words you sing,” Jane said.
There are 60 students participating in the play from grades three through six. And every student who auditioned was cast in a role, which Jane said is the best part. “Everybody gets to join, and everybody just has fun,” she said.
Chiappardi said she hoped to be able to work on another production next year, and that participation in a play would enrich the new thespians. “I hope they understand how important the theater is and how exciting it is,” she said, “that it’s another outlet and another place to be in the school.”
The play will debut on April 28. Admission is free. For more information, call (516) 624-6559.