For two nights in April, “Hakuna Matata” echoed through the hallways at Oak Hill Elementary School in Severna Park.
Almost 70 fourth- and fifth-grade students, a slew of parental volunteers and an artistic team of Oak Hill educators put on a production of Disney’s “The Lion King JR.” on April 18 and 19.
Oak Hill’s gym was complete with decor to resemble the plains of Africa, and the youngest audience members added to the effect by sporting animal-themed headbands that were sold at the concession stand.
From the opening “Circle of Life” tune to the final bows, the performers put on a show that the school staff hopes will linger in the students’ minds far beyond the two nights.
“The magic you created onstage was created by your confidence and creativity,” said Deneen Houghton, principal at Oak Hill, to the cast after the final show. “I can say, without hesitation, that this performance is going to be a memory for everyone when they think about Oak Hill, and I’m very, very proud of that.”
One of many standout performances was delivered by 11-year-old Brenna Main, who portrayed Scar. Brenna’s ability to present Scar’s friendly façade, which masks evil intentions, showcased a talent and emotional depth that exceeds what one might expect from a fifth-grader.
“I love performing so much, it’s so much fun,” Brenna said.
It wasn’t solely the onstage antics that students put in hard work to create. The elementary school children also took on roles such as spotlight operators, set engineers, musical staff, prop and scene managers, and ensemble coordinators.
“We made the show happen, you know, and I just feel really happy being a part of that,” said fifth-grade student and stage manager Jack Gorski.
Laila Bivens, a fifth-grade student at Oak Hill, played Nala. It was Laila’s first time being onstage — she hopes it isn’t her last.
“I just like the costumes and the fun,” Laila said. “I like watching other people perform also. It’s so interesting being backstage.”
Amanda Gorski, a first-grade teacher at Oak Hill, made her debut as a stage director for “The Lion King JR.” Gorski said work on rehearsals, creating props and other production essentials began in January.
“Musicals offer an opportunity to work with students in a different element,” Gorski said. “Seeing a student that is shy in class dance across the stage, or the student that is always doodling on paper create beautifully detailed masks and props is rewarding. We are very fortunate to have an administration and PTO that supports school musicals.”
Nathan Peachey, a kid favorite around the school, served as the production’s musical director. His last name gives a clue about how he felt following the two-night production run.
“This year was really remarkable,” Peachey said. “They really put their hearts and souls into it.”
Emerson Elliott, a fourth-grade student at Oak Hill, played Timon.
“It made me feel like happy, excited and important,” said Emerson, while still sporting the perpetual smile that mirrored the grin she donned onstage.
Timon’s best friend, Pumbaa, was played by fourth-grader Matthew Little. Matthew’s first appearance in the production occurred when Simba, played by Kolbie Phillips, collapsed and Matthew’s character was occupied with shooing away the birds.
While Peachey said next year’s production is still being decided, judging by the sights of students dancing backstage and congratulating each other at a post-performance ice cream gathering, there likely won’t be a shortage of eager performers.
“I’m definitely doing this next year,” Matthew said. “It doesn’t matter what the play is.”