Twelve months without theatre is a long time. One year on from the World Health Organisation declaring a pandemic, we are now beginning to emerge from a year of using nothing but ghost lights to return to the thing we all love most – live theatre.
When Covid-19 hit, many shows were postponed, or, worse, cancelled. One such postponed show was Diamond Valley Singers The Lion King Jr. Theatre People spoke with director Merinda Gray about that trying time. “When we cancelled our performances in 2020, we were just days away from opening night”, says Gray. “This flattened us all for a while, and in the process of starting up again we lost a number of cast members”. Coming back to a show twelve months on with a teenage cast presented one unusual challenge – “One of our two Young Simba’s became rather more grown up, with a very deep roar! So, we now have two Mufasas and one Young Simba, instead of the other way around”.
With the show having had an eleven month hiatus, coming back to rehearsals at the start of February was like greeting an old, if slightly unfamiliar friend. “We certainly had to refresh a lot of things we had forgotten, and some choreography was changed to accommodate the changes in cast, so it has been a long rehearsal process for this show”, reflects Gray. “Hopefully that will all be justified when it sparkles onstage!”.
Now that DVS are back in the swing of rehearsals, the production team has enjoyed can seeing the kids back to full strength. “I think the cast has just enjoyed being together after such a strange, disjointed year”, says Gray. Production manager Malcolm Wilson added, “Onstage they love their costumes, and how it brings their characters to life. Off stage, they’re just chillin’ “.
Enhancing the appearance of the costumes is the spectacular set, designed by Steve Wilkie. “The theatre we use is quite a vertical space and that is sometimes a nuisance as far as set design”, says Gray. “But in this instance it has allowed us to have a really impressive Pride Rock which towers over the Pridelands, revolving to become variously the hyena caves, Mufasa’s climbing wall in the Stampede scene, and a jungle backdrop for Hakuna Matata. The opening scene with Rafiki (Francesca Spina) singing ‘The Circle of Life’ surrounded by giraffes on stilts, leaping gazelles, cantering zebras, swaying elephants and prowling lions is definitely a favourite moment”.
Gray was drawn to working on The Lion King Jr for several reasons. “The themes that The Lion King touches on are, to me, the most moving of all the Disney productions. Themes of honour, loss, guilt, love and the power of being a member of a “pride” or clan, are part of us all. […] Add to this the amazing score by Elton John and Lebo M, as well as the opportunity for countless dazzling costumes, The Lion King Jr is a show we just couldn’t resist!”
With our lives settling back into our new normal, now is the perfect time to go and support some talented kids as they bring back some live theatre to the world. “The younger members of the cast seem to have bubbled along without too much trouble, but I think some of the older children were pretty worried about the situation and whether it would continue to affect their lives”, says Gray. “The beauty of theatre is how it can transport us away from the worries of the day, into a different world. The African Savannah is a pretty cool world to escape to”.
Gray smiles as she concludes “ ‘Hakuna Matata! It means no worries for the rest of your days’ – what a great theme some for 2021 and beyond”.
The Lion King Jr is playing at Warrandyte High School Theatre from Saturday March 20th to Sunday March 28th.
Tickets are available through https://www.trybooking.com/BGQMB
Adults $27 – Concessions $22 – Children $15
Saturday March 20th 2.00pm
Saturday March 20th 5.00pm
Sunday March 21st 2.00pm
Sunday March 21st 5.00pm
Saturday March 27th 2.00pm
Saturday March 27th 5.00pm
Sunday March 28th 1.00pm
Sunday March 28th 4.00pm
Diamond Valley Singers and Warrandyte High School are adhering to current COVID 19 restrictions which may vary by the time we start performances. The theatre has a reduced capacity of 170 audience maximum.
Masks are mandatory in the theatre and venue for those aged 12 years and over, and social distancing is required in the foyer. You must remain in your allocated seats to avoid breaching distancing requirements during the performance.
Hand sanitiser will be available in the foyer, toilets, theatre, and outside.
Registration is required upon entry.
If you are unwell you are required to stay home; we can organise replacement tickets or refunds as necessary.