Mo’olele Productions, staging Disney’s ”Lion King Jr.” at Mamiya Theatre this week, had to cancel two performances– Thursday’s (March 23) and Friday’s  (March 24) shows — because of internal casting issues, forcing replacements in four roles that delayed the opening until a 2 p.m. matinee show this afternoon (March 25).

Music Theatre International, the academic group supporting school and  youth-oriented actors and productions, is the licensing agent of “junior plays.”  It informed Mo‘olele director Kyle Kakuno on Tuesday (March 22) that four leading roles had to be recast because the actors were college-age.

The delayed premiere today (March 25), will be followed by another 2 p.m. matinee Sunday (March 26).

 The unexpected distraction has challenged the company of actors and techies, since the show was ready to “go” with a preview performance last Wednesday (March 22). But the proper adjustments were made.

“We were able to recast, using three of the present high school cast members, plus two young men from Punahou School and Kamehameha Schools,” said director Kakuno, a theater veteran who has staged numerous musicals at Mamiya and now is associated with Mo‘olele, anchored at Saint Louis School, where he also has been a longtime drama teacher.

So “the show must go on” show biz mantra is alive with “Lion King Jr.” introducing these last-minute replacements to the cast:

  • Nathaniel Ryan-Kern, in the role of Mufasa. He is from Punahou.
  • Nainoa Kebo, as Simba. He is from Kamehameha.
  • Cocomi Mehring, originally a Lioness, will be Nala.
  • Lyric Illiana Bernard, who was Sarabi, steps in as Rafiki.
  • Zander Woolsey, formerly a Hyena, will enact Pumbaa.

Ryan-Kern and Kebo are high school seniors who have previously been in a junior production of “Lion King Jr.,” but neither performed in the roles they have inherited at Mamiya.

Kyle Kakuno

Dean So‘oalo, Poasa Aga, Ku‘ulei Kekoa, and Sam Tafolo originally had been cast as Mufasa, Simba, Nala, iand Pumbaa, respectively. They stepped down but immediately began coaching and cheering on their replacements, prepping for the opening. Actor Bernard is 18 and a senior at Mililani High School and thus is eligible, switching from Saribi to Rafiki. “She is doing wonderful as Rafiki which is the most demanding role of the show,” said Kakuno.

The conflict had some blessings; it has boosted the esprit and morale of the entire cast. So Pride Mountain is in proper mode now.

“MTI determines age in years and for ‘Lion King Jr.,’ – it’s 18 or younger,” said Kakuno of the guidelines governing participation of students. “So, if you have a young college kid who’s still 18 – he is eligible. That is our understanding.”

Other key roles include Reagan Beissel as Zazu, Isaiah Castillo as Scar, Chris Casupang as Timon, Pomaikai Kauka as  Young Simba, Mikaela Freitas as Young Nala, Zander Woolsey as Banzai, Maya Yoshida as Shenzi, and Lloyd Smith as Ed.

The creative team, including choreographer Christine Yasunaga and musical director Miguel Cadoy III, also have thrown their support to tweak and reshape the show, making necessary adjustments with the cast changes.

Some cast members also have stepped in to cover the smaller roles that were vacated, with much of the ensemble doing their lion’s share of cooperation to launch the show that was ready to roll before the adjustments.

“This experience has brought the whole group closer as you can imagine,” said Kakuno. “There’s a lot more energy spent on supporting each other instead of making oneself stand out. Sometimes the unexpected happens and how you deal with it tells you a lot about yourself. This week has taught me a lot about this cast I have at Mamiya Theatre.”

Playbill was ready for print, “but thank goodness, we hadn’t printed a single copy when this all went down,” said Kakuno. “We made adjustments to the copy and ran them off on our own printer LAST NIGHT (Friday) and into the wee hours this morning.”

“No matter how it goes on Saturday afternoon, I’ve never been prouder of the way this cast has responded to adversity,” said the director.

The beloved show boasts the expected array of animal masks and costumes, plus puppets and dances that echo the Broadway original.

The musical is a beloved family favorite, with a handful of popular tunes, including the inspirational “Circle of Life” and the romantic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” The comedic “Hakuna Makata,” which means “no worries,” also is popular and counteracts the in-house issues with casting, now corrected.

Because it’s prom season at some schools, the producers decided to avoid its usual opening weekend gala to launch “Lion King Jr.” and do a closing night event instead, on Sunday April 2, enabling cast members to attend their school proms. …


Lion King Jr.”

A Disney musical with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday (March 25) and Sunday (March 26), 7:30 p.m. March 30 and 31, 2 p.m. April 1, and 6 p.m. April 2 preceded by a 4 p.m. gala, with cocktails and pupu.

Where: Where: Mamiya Theatre, at Saint Louis School/Chaminade University campus

Tickets: $15, at www.moolelostudios.simpletix.com

TAG’s ‘Burning Boy’ is a hit

The Hawaii premiere of David West Read’s. “The Dream of the Burning Boy,” now playing at the Brad Powell Theatre at The Actors Group (TAG), earned a standing ovation the other night.

It’s a drama, directed by Bro. Gary Morris, dealing with the unexpected death of a high school overachiever, which exposes a secret that could destroy his survivors and unite them, challenging them to find the power to move on.

The cast includes Daniel O’Brien, Sade Frame, Keith Ordonez, Garrett Hill, Tiger Tam, Luke Ferrin and Shannon Patalano.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays though April 16.

Tickets: $30 general, $25 seniors, $20 military and students, at (808) 741-4699 or tagtickets@hawaii.rr.com

And that’s Show Biz. …

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