Disney’s ‘Lion King Jr.’ roars into the Players Guild

Untitled-1From Pride Rock to the African Savannah, journey with the cast of Disney’s Lion King Jr. as they sing the musical coming-of-age story at the Players Guild of Dearborn.

The show runs 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2 to 4, and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Players Guild of Dearborn, 21730 Madison, in Dearborn.

Disney’s “Lion King Jr.” begins with a cub named Simba, destined to be king of the Pridelands, and his sidekicks Timon and Pumbaa. Mufasa teaches his son, Simba about the circle of life, providing him with valuable lessons, while Mufasa’s evil and jealous brother sets a plot in motion that destroys lives and nearly their natural home.

Nala, the female lion princess, finds Simba, and urges him to reclaim his place and help the other animals, exposing Scar and restoring balance to the Pridelands.

The show includes musical favorites, including “The Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

David Culliton of Livonia directs the show, with musical director Charissa Duncanson of Westland and choreographer Lindsey Brenz of Troy.

Culliton said making his directorial debut is daunting, but he has a great cast and crew with which to work.

“I have a fantastic team surrounding me, filled to the brim with talented, brilliant people who are making this show the best it can be,” Culliton said. “Our cast is talented, and possesses such a great work ethic that even during tough rehearsals it feels like they’re making great progress toward putting on an awesome show.”

Culliton said audiences familiar with the movie will enjoy unexpected surprises in the stage version of the show.

“We didn’t want to replicate the stage show and be a carbon copy of the movie,” he said. “We’ve tried to rediscover this show, looking at it from a new angle and telling it a different way.

“We’ve put our own spin on the show’s aesthetic, toyed around with how moments and scenes in this show are expected to look, and tried to distill the show down to a few strong themes to help both our cast and our audience connect to the show more than ever before.”

Culliton said the characters are portrayed in unique ways never before seen.

“The result is a version of this story that our audience can’t just take for granted as your typical telling of ‘The Lion King,’” he said. “Expect to be taken on as much of a journey of discovery as our kids have in the rehearsal process, a journey you see reflected onstage.”

Brenz says this production of Disney’s “Lion King Jr.” is unlike any other.

“Culliton, the director, brought a very unique and interesting concept to the table for this particular production,” she said. “His vision is unlike any version I have seen. Audiences can expect to see a trendy, modern twist on this classic tale.”

Brenz said audiences can expect the choreography to be fun and authentic. She said she wanted to stay as true to traditional African style dancing as possible, so she did a lot of research.

“When I choreograph, I focus on having fun, and this show is no different,” she said. “The choreography is engaging and interactive, yet meaningful and philosophical.

“My style of choreography is heavily influenced by the lyrics of the song, and because of the Zulu language used throughout, I had to use translation websites to capture the meaning of each song and express that emotion through each dance.”

Brady Deckert, who plays the villainous Scar, said rehearsals have been fun.

“The cast and director have made this a fun show,” he said. “I’ve learned how to perform my character in a new way.”

His brother Blake, who is in the ensemble, said the rehearsal process has been fun for the cast, which will translate into fun for audiences.

“The director has made this version of ‘The Lion King’ like you’ve never seen,” he said.

In addition to the Deckerts, the cast includes Matt Hermen as Young Simba, Liberty Steege as Young Nala and Griffin Golden as Mufasa.

Mohammed Fawaz plays adult Simba, with Lucy Morris as adult Nala, Margaret Carscadden as Rafiki, Natalie Nazarian as Zazu, Kolbe Pierzynowski as Timon and Aiden Golden as Pumbaa.

Charlotte Karoub plays Sarabi, with Livia Farley as Sarafina, Kate Varitek as Shenzi, Ava Assenmacher as Banzai and Malcolm Gorsline as Ed.

Ensemble members who play lionesses and grasslands animals include: Samantha Bush, Ariadna Cortés, Sophie DeKoning, Lara Elhajj, Livia Farley, Maggie Kanclerz, Phoebe Morris, Erin Preiss and Jaclyn and Michelle Sayger.

Kings of the Past and hyenas are played by Layla Cortés, Dominic Greimel, Deirdre O’Connell, Victoria and Samuel Sanchez, Claire Storey, Izzy Sullivan and Daniel Tyler.

Tickets are $10. To order, call 313-561-TKTS or go to playersguildofdearborn.org.