Friday, January 20, 2017

Lion King Jr. roars with talent By Stephen Signor

Emma Bennet (sitting) plays the role of Nala
On an afternoon following a successful opening night, director Mary Wassick stood center stage at the Windham Performing Arts Center. She was to greet yet another impressive turnout for this lively stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning, 1994 Disney film Lion King, Jr., presented by the Windham Middle School. Made possible by the cast, staff and the community, there was good reason to pre-empt the show with many words of thanks. With 160 rehearsal hours and 58 plus volunteers, there was much praise to give.

“The cast has worked very hard, having begun preparing for this show back in October, and I’m so happy to see the continued support from our community,” said Wassick. With nearly 80 overall volunteers, many of them without children in the middle school, contributing to productions like this one, there was plenty of thanks to go around. those numerous volunteers, were four Windham High School students who were part of an all important crew. One of them was assistant director Libby McBride, a junior who had been asked by Wassick if she would like to help with the show.

“I grew up doing plays with Mary at WCST (Windham Community Stage Theater) in middle school,” shared McBride. “I’ve never been a director or anything like that, so when asked, I was beyond excited! I have always been an actor, singer; always on the stage. To be behind the scenes was great! It’s been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed it,” she continued.

When the curtain rose it was immediately obvious that the cast of characters were enjoying

themselves and feeling quite comfortable in costumes made possible by volunteer Becky Merriman. Her 300 to 400 hours of time investment was obvious. “I started collecting materials for the costumes in June of last year immediately after the conclusion of the Shrek show,” shared Merriman.“This production was probably the most complicated with a cast of 40, that task was obviously daunting,” she said. There are 170 costumes and that doesn’t count how many pieces are involved in each one. There are a lot of moving parts,” confirmed Merriman. Has it been worth it? “It’s been a great time! I love working with Mary and Angela.” the first act it was evident the players were in their comfort zone, feeding off the numerous responses of laughter and applause after each and every exit for quick set changes. The set was built by middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher Jason Lanoie; another dedicated volunteer who spent his time off from teaching during school vacations to work on the set. 

“It was the only time available to do this, but I enjoyed being part of the show,” said Lanoie.
In the audience was Nicky Calden, mother of Molly who played Timon. Now 13, “Molly has been doing this at multiple theaters since the age of eight, most recently as the donkey in Shrek,” said Calden. The character of Timon requires a comedic demeanor and according to crowd response, Molly’s previous role as Donkey paid off.

With intermission came time for a look behind the scenes. Back stage cast and crew were preparing for costume changes that involved face painting as well as garments. The transformation was seamless and not without a little age-typical banter and a willingness to share their thoughts.

In particular, were 11-year-old Morgan Wing (young Simba), Chloe Allen (one of the hyenas) and Daphne Cyr (Zazu) who shared their young passion for the theater and the fun they have working together.

“This is a lot of fun. I enjoy doing this and performing with the other kids,” said Wing. They all agreed, as they will be performing together again in the upcoming junior version of The Wizard of Oz.

After the show and a well deserved standing ovation, Wassick would reveal the nature of a successful weekend. “As for opening night, it was fabulous! Probably one of the best I’ve seen.” And she should know, having been involved in theater for 19 years; nine of those with Windham Middle School. The total count for the first two days hovered around 700.

“I just want to thank Windham Middle School for keeping the drama program alive and giving all of these great kids an outlet to express themselves and have fun. I have a tremendous amount of support. It makes me thankful everyday that Windham has such a strong regard for the arts,” said Wassick.

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