Kiara Taliaferro and Brent Wang thought Grant Rose needed to lighten up.
The pair of Old Donation School (ODS) eighth-graders had an idea.
As “Lion King” characters Timon and Pumbaa, Taliaferro and Wang started to explain their “problem-free philosophy.”
“Hakuna Matata!” they sang. “What a wonderful phrase.”
“It means no worries for the rest of your days.”
It didn’t take long for eighth-grader Rose, as Young Simba, and ensemble cast members to join in the singing and dancing.
It was one of more than a dozen scenes in the two-act musical “The Lion King Jr.” presented by students in Old Donation School’s Brickell Academy Chorus and Rising Tides Theatre Company May 10-13.
It was also the first musical performed in Old Donation School’s new building on Honeygrove Road.
“You just have know idea what an incredible blessing it is to be in our own facility, to be able to rehearse on our own stage and to fill our own auditorium for our musicals,” DeLena Poe, middle school chorus director, told the audience before the performance May 12. “Thanks to the school board and all of you had a part in bringing us to this place.”
Poe added that she and her husband Ken Poe, band director at ODS, have known many places in their two decades of teaching at the division’s centralized gifted school.
“We’ve been in five different buildings, with four different zip codes, in three different configurations and, until this year, our spring musical has always been, ‘Let’s see how we can make it work,’” said Poe.
Making it work is what student directors Sierra Colbert and Bailey Wargo learned throughout the process of putting together the performance that involved more than 100 of their peers. They were two of five eighth-graders who helped staff members direct the show.
“We’ve learned a lot about management and how to collaborate with everyone,” Wargo said backstage before Friday night’s show in which she and Colbert were part of the ensemble casts as grass and kings of the past.
Colbert also emphasized teamwork.
“It’s a really big collaboration to put on a musical, especially one as big as this one in a new building,” she said. “We have a lot of set and costume people who have been working really hard for months now. We got the theatre students involved, too. It’s a lot of work but it’s a really cool process.”
There was also a sense of ownership.
“Because we’re collaborating with our peers on a project, we have friends who are principal characters and also ensemble characters; there is a sense of responsibility of being sure we know where everyone needs to be while also being a part of the production.”
Keeping track of where everyone needed to be had to be a massive task.
Student performers entered from the back of the auditorium. They ran, twirled and leapt from wings of the stage. They entered from side doors and popped up from seats in the audience to sing on the sides of the hall. There were solo performances, duets and all-cast numbers that involved choreography and costume changes.
Additionally, the production used switch casts in which the students in principal roles alternated Wednesday-Thursday nights and Friday-Saturday nights.
A few roles, including Mufasa, Scar and Simba, were played by the same student for all four shows.
Vance Newsome played the patient and protective Mufasa.
“I like playing this role because I feel like it suits my personality really well. I’m more calm and composed like Mufasa is,” Newsome said.
Being calm by nature meant he had to learn to be open to director’s notes to “do a better job of projecting more and sounding angry in certain spots,” he said.
For Newsome, singing and acting is more extracurricular than the pathway to a future career in the performing arts. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the experience of being part of the production.
“It’s just the whole atmosphere of the group. It’s really fun to be a part of,” he said.
Based on the applause for the performance’s finale, there’s no doubt many audience members would agree.
See below for more photos from the performance Friday, May 12.