Learning Community invites all to see 'Lion King Jr.'

J.P. Kennedy
Special to The Black Mountain News

Every spring, The Learning Community School, based at the Camp Rockmont campus in Black Mountain, produces an all-school musical for the Valley community.

Jackson Zeh plays with Zazu, a puppet during a recent rehearsal by The Learning Community School players.

For friends and family, this is an evening of high-level performance, fantastic and elaborate costumes and wonderful music. For the students at the school, the play is a right of passage. Kindergartners' roles are limited to performing during the large showstoppers, but as the students progress in age, they take on leadership roles and more significant parts.

This spring the Learning Community is presenting the "Lion King Jr." The musical at Owen High School's auditorium will be at 6 p.m. Friday March 31, 4 p.m. Saturday, April 1 and at 2 p.m. Sunday April 2. The "Lion King Jr.," a coming-of-age story about Simba, Pumbaa and Timon, is set in the African savanna. Tickets are $10, available at thelearningcommunity.org.

The Learning Community School, an independent school for grades K-8, is staging its 16th school musical performance. The productions have been an annual tradition since the school’s 2002 staging of "Charlotte’s Web."

Tom Tracy, the school's musical director, has witnessed the growth and transformation of the actors during a single musical and over the course of their school experience.

“Over time this becomes a culture of performing arts,” he said. "Each year is an experience, but each year builds on previous training in music, acting and choreography. We work hard to make the rehearsal process fun, productive and creative. The process itself is as important, or even more so, than the actual show.

Rehearsals for the "Lion King Jr." have been fun, if at times chaotic.

"My favorite joke is that you can walk into any classroom and say, "5-6-7-8" and practically expect the room to jump up and start singing and dancing. It just kind of becomes the water we swim in.”

Eighth-grader Sam Edwards has been part of the musicals since he was in kindergarten. This year he will be playing Pumbaa, a warthog.

"I like how the whole school, the older kids and the younger kids, get together,” he said. "And the younger kids get to learn and take on these bigger roll as they grow up.  I remember when I was in second grade and the school handed out a list of characters. It was 'Beauty and The Beast,' and i wanted to be Beast. Now I get the chance to have that kind of a role.”

Pumbaa and Timon are the comic relief in a musical that focuses on some challenging themes. Timon will be played by Carson Campbell.

“We teach Simba to have no worries,” he said. "The funniest parts are some of the lines Sam and I have. 'Hakuna Matata' is no doubt the best song. It is the bomb. We’re the comic relief after tragedy.”

In the musical Simba is forced to flee his extended family of lions when Scar attempts to take over the pride. Simba is reunited with his family when Nala, a lioness, hunts Pumba and finds Simba is still alive.

“When I was in the third grade, I always looked up to the eighth-graders,” Fields Wright, who plays Nala, said. "Now I’m an eighth-grader, and I’m getting all dressed up and making this story come to life.”

Highlights in this production include the creative choreography, the all-school chorus numbers and the live accompaniment for well-loved songs such as “Hakuna Matata,” “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” and “Circle of Life.”

The Learning Community School musicals are also known for their professional quality of costumes and sets. What makes this all-school production unique is that not only does the entire K-8 student body of 75​participate, but every parent in the community also contributes time and talent as well. The parents contribute costumes, makeup, lighting, props and more. This year the school will add puppetry to its performance.

“Well, first of all, it is a masterpiece of a show,” Tracy said. "It is filled with majesty and honor for life, peppered with humor and fun and filled with a variety of important themes for all ages. More simply put, it's uplifting. The brilliance of Julie Taymor (who directed the "The Lion King" on Broadway) with costuming broke open the world of puppetry and mask use on Broadway, and we're doing our best to reach her vision. We have an extremely talented costume director in Theresa Cote.”