Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Lion King’ reigns handsomely in De Pere

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In this region, there is nothing quite like The Dance Company’s production of “The Lion King.”

The full-bodied piece is an adaptation of Disney versions of the story of boy lion who would be king in the face of evil.

The show sweeps from being cute as a bug to elegant in its two leading performers. And it is always a sight to see in its vivid costuming and large-scale scene-making.

If you are at a crossroads of whether to see this show, do what Yogi Berra says to do: Take it. Four performances remain in Walter Theatre of St. Norbert College in De Pere, performance home of the Green Bay area company with Shirley Van as artistic director.

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Running time: Two hours

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. March 17, 2 and 7 p.m. March 18, 1 p.m. March 19

Info: gbdanceco.org

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Full disclosure: I came to Thursday’s opening performance “clean” – having never seen either the 1994 movie or the stage production. I came away impressed by how wonderfully collaborative the local production is in the way the creative team led by directors Carrie Wielgus, Jami Suring (who also performs) and Michael Palubicki imagine and then pull off a complete work.

The production is a hybrid. It is a cross between a dance production and a musical. Dance is primary, but there is dialogue. Any singing is by way of sequences danced to a recorded soundtrack. In short, the dancers act. Being that key characters are Disney-comical/colorful, there’s fun to be had.

One of the strengths of the show is the performance level of the leads, who come in layers.

In the support layer are such figures as Scar (Katelyn Schroeder), the calculating uncle of rightful king Simba; Young Simba (Koree Brosig), the eager-to-learn son of Mufasa; Young Nala (Kayla Hecker), Simba’s childhood friend who becomes more than a friend; Timon (Morgan Wigman) and Pumbaa (Jodi Kay Edwards), Simba’s bug-eating, goofy sidekicks; Sarabi (Lexine Smits), queen of the Pride Lands; Zazu (Madison Renard), the puffed-up hornbill; and Rafiki (Bryanna Gauger), a kind of guru who helps sew the story together. The roles call for acting, dance solos and combinations and a lot of character-building in general. Many pluses can be found all around.

Big pluses come in the top leads, Alex Sabin and Jami Suring. In other productions in the area, Sabin is an actor with nimble physical ways about him. Here, he is an actor who dances and looks striking in his two focal roles as Mufasa, the dynamic king, and Simba, his son. Opposite is Suring, a skill dancer (and one of the directors). At peaks, Sabin and Suring are featured in romantic duets to the song “Can You Feel the Love.” These are smooth, athletic/artistic and lovely – with a move in which Sabin supports Suring on a hip as Suring uncoils being especially electric.

This and that other stuff about the production:

+ The productions includes many youngsters. There’s always a loosey goosey element with dance execution with kids, but, boy, are they fun in their kiddie cuteness as Bugs and later big-eyed Grubs. Sweet.

+ How do you kill a formidable king of lions? It takes 30 Wildebeests in this show, complete with duplicate body costumes and blank-stare masks with sharp horns pointing upward. To help give a sense of stampede, 14 of the Wildebeests tap-dance in unison. Great scene-setting.

+ Sometimes the aisles are used to envelop the audience and give the sense of a vast African landscape.

+ Clever costuming abounds among the many animals. Particularly tricky to make are two elephant heads. Not only does this head gear have to look the part, it has to be comfortable and safe and, finally, stable enough for the dancers to be able to dance. A lot of thought went into those heads.

+ In one scene, an aura of expansiveness is heightened with the use of two ballroom crystal balls that play star-like lights throughout the hall.

+ The production gives off the sense that the performers take to the story. They seem to like the idea that they are in “The Lion King” – like, “Oh boy, this is cool to be in that story that I love so much.” That is a wonderful thing about local productions – that feeling that “we, too,” can make this thing happen.

In many ways, The Dance Company’s “The Lion King” is extremely good.

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Creative: Adaptation of Disney’s “The Lion King;” director – Carrie Wielgus; assistant director – Jami Suring; stage director – Michael Palubicki; dance captain – Bryanna Gauger; production chair – Tom Polomis; costumes chair – Ann Suring; props chairs – Tracy Smits, Dale Knafelc-Renard; lighting – Scott LaPlante, Jack Rhyner; audio/video – Thomas Danz; artistic director – Shirley Van

Cast: Mufasa – Alex Sabin; Sarabi – Lexine Smits; Scar – Katelyn Schroeder; Zazu – Madison Renard; Rafiki – Bryanna Gauger; Young Simba – Koree Brosig; Adult Simba – Alex Sabin; Young Nala – Kayla Hecker; Adult Nala – Jami Suring; Timon – Morgan Wigman – Pumbaa – Jodi Kay Edwards; Bonzai – Alyson Nordstrom; Ed – Jessica McMullen; Shenzi – Hannah VandenHeuvel; Sarafina – Anna Smits; Gopher – Amber Polomis; Baby Simba – Joe Polomis; Lionesses Act I – Jodi-Kay Edwards, Kayla Hecker, Hailey Maxwell, Anna Smits, Lexine Smits, Jami Suring, Morgan Wigman, *Kaitlyn Wunderlich, *Tayler Wypishinski-Prechter; Act II – Koree Brosig, Kayla Hecker, Hailey Maxwell, Anna Smits, Lexine Smits, Jami Suring, Kaitlyn Wunderlich, Tayler Wypishinski-Prechter; Hyenas – Genelle Basten, Maria Miller, Jazmin Queoff, Hannah Schmitz, Avery Spoerl, Amber Polomis, Kaitlyn Wunderlich, Troy Wypishinski-Prechter; Wildebeests – entire cast (30, with 14 tap dancing); Grasslands – Genelle Basten, Lainey Potz, Emma Johnson, Clarissa LaPlante, Morgan Lemens, Lily Mannion, Maria Miller, Grace Nimmer, Kellyn Pelegrin, Sylvia Pryes, Jazmin Queoff, Jayna Schema, Hannah Schmitz, Avery Spoerl, Troy Wypishinski-Prechter; Grubs – Ally Boockmeier, Natalie Danz, Sonia Ettinger, Yuritzi Flores, Cassie Kubale, Kate Miller, Erin Polomis, Annika Pries, Cadence Queoff, Addison Schmidt, Ella Thomas, Ella Van Price; Flowers – Koree Brosig, Kayla Hecker, Hailey Maxwell, Anna Smits, Lexine Smits, Tayler Wypishinski-Prechter; Stars – Hailey Maxewell, Amber Polomis, Anna Smits, Jami Suring, Katie Taft, Kaitlyn Wunderlich, Tayler Wypishinski-Prechter; Animals – Lainey Botz, Emma Johnson, Clarissa LaPlante, Morgan Lemens, Lily Mannion, Grace Nimmer, Kellyn Pelegrin, Syliva Pryes, Jayna Schema; Bugs – Ally Boockmeier, Michelle Brunette, Ilianna Castro, Keyla Christensen, Cassie Kubale, Sophia Cruz-Reznicek, Yuritzi Flores, Brooklyn Klarner, Aubrey Postl, Gloria Pryes, Cadence Queoff, Ella Thomas, Morgan Veldboom; Butterflies – Katie Taft, Amber Polomis, Kaitlyn Wunderluch; Circle of Life – entire cast

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Musical selections

“Circle of Life”

“Grasslands Chant”

“High Speed Air Chase”

“Dark Waltz”

“The Lioness Hunt”

“Good Morning Capetown”

“Party! Party! Party!”

“Kings of the Past”

“Volcano”

“The Stampede”

“Let’s Go”

“Bitter and Sweet”

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”

“He Lives in You” (Reprise)

“Whacked Out Conspiracy”

“Interhamwe Attack”

“Hukuna Matata”

***

Scenes

Act I

“Circle of Life”

“Scar’s Cave”

“Grasslands”

“Scar’s Cave”

“Watering Hole”

“Elephant Graveyard”

“Stars”

“Stampede”

“Grubs”/ “Hakuna Matata”

Act II

“Lionesses in Mourning”

“Under the Stars”

“Can You Feel the Love”

“He Lives in You”

“Pride Rock”

“Distraction”

“Fight”

“Circle of Life”

“Finale”

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THE VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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