‘Lion King Kids’ Roars Into Academy Playhouse

by Melissa De La Vega

Children’s community theater on Cape Cod is at its absolute best as Disney’s “The Lion King Kids,” which opened last week to a sold out audience at the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans. What a sight to see almost 40 young actors grace the stage for the beloved tale of Simba, Mufasa, and the entire animal kingdom of Pride Rock.

This production, directed by Keren Castro, is a paired-down version just for kids. It is based on the original Disney movie and Broadway show, with music by Tim Rice and Elton John and based on the book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. “The Lion King” features all of the cherished songs we all know and love: “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” and more.

Playing the young Simba with a powerhouse voice is Naomi Betts, with the adult Simba played by the charming Will Olean. Both actors take on wonderful solo numbers in the show. Two teens actors take on their leading roles perfectly with Mufasa, played by Zendon Donoho, and Scar, played by Ben Bearse. Adult and young Nala are played by sisters Chiara and Gabi Castro, respectively, and Erin Walsh plays Sarabi. These three actors also serve as dance captains and dance assistants during the show along with a few others. The lionesses are played by Samantha Kelley and Lily Gregory.

The hilarious duo of Grady Sneed as the loveable warthog Pumba and Toby Goers as the wise-cracking meerkat Timone are fantastic and will have you laughing out loud, as will Charlie Tobin as the no-nonsense, uptight royal advisor Zazu.

One of the best elements of this youth version of “The Lion King” is that there are clearly more than enough roles in the cast for anyone who wants to participate. Case in point: there are six “Rafikis” who help move the story along and narrate at different points in the show. These are played by Charlie Hawk, Hazel Yingling, Cecelia Miner, Eva Bogle, Ella Bohn and Cora Goers.

The silly, mischievous gang of hyenas in “Lion King” are led by Layloa LaBonte (Shenzi), Paxton Glidden (Ed), Andrew Breda (Banzai) along with Finnigan Conlin, Brayden Gonsalves, Teddy Olean, Sylvie Weimer, Fankie Lowe, Annie Strangfeld and Shepard Potash, who play a mix of hyena soldiers and other wild animals.

Rounding out the expansive cast are a host of impressive kids playing all types of animals from Pride Rock like rhinos, elephants, giraffes, zebras and more: Aria Luster, Alexandra Bohn, Gia Popov, Charlee Donoho, Camille Evans, Holden Conlin, Evelyn Reeves, Finley Smith and Niamh Davis.

“The Lion King” is a production not to be missed. The show is perfect for families with small children and an easy hour to commit to on a summer morning. Get tickets soon; this one will sell out fast!