The crowd roared

“Lion King” rules at Disney Musicals in Schools


The Lion King paid a royal visit to his young subjects at NJPAC, which was transformed into the Pride Lands – emphasis on the word “pride” – as part of Disney Musicals in Schools’ Student Share Celebration.  


Jelani Remy, a New Jerseyan currently appearing in the title role of Simba in Broadway’s The Lion King, hosted this year’s celebration – after admitting to the children that even though he still gets nervous on stage, the trepidation “means you care.” His entrance was greeted by whoops of surprise from the more than 250 third- through fifth-graders, adults and teachers, who were capping 17 weeks of rehearsals in their city schools by performing scenes from abbreviated, 30-minute Disney KIDS versions in elegant Prudential Hall.


Remy compared the students’ fellowship and teamwork to the family of actors that has grown up around The Lion King, now celebrating – as is the Arts Center itself – a 20-year anniversary. “There’s always someone to learn from, always someone to lean on,” he said of his journey with the show, which began in the ensemble, playing “the back legs of the rhinoceros.”


The February 12 Student Share Celebration included the participation of young thespians from Abington Avenue School and Discovery Charter School, both in Newark; Fred W. Martin Center for the Arts in Jersey City; Burch Charter School of Excellence in Irvington, and Paterson Public School No. 2. Three of this year’s schools chose The Lion King KIDS (performing “The Circle of Life,” “One By One” and “He Lives in You”), and each of the others a selection from Cinderella KIDS and Winnie the Pooh KIDS. The schools were chosen from among 25 applications.


With guidance and financial support from the Walt Disney Company and Disney Theatrical Group, in-school residencies were established by teaming NJPAC’s Teaching Artists with classroom teachers. The creative process of crafting costumes, props, voices, movement and diction into a show is a springboard for the schools to stage their first musical and initiate their own theater programs. Disney Musicals in Schools is found at 17 professional arts organizations nationwide and has an additional location in London.


Alison Scott-Williams, NJPAC’s Vice President of Arts Education, announced from the stage that all five schools were offered the rights by Disney Theatrical Group to present another Disney KIDS Musical next academic year as second-year partners. NJPAC, which has been active in the program since 2015, is the only New Jersey venue for Disney Musicals in Schools.


“We should be thankful to our teachers, who see the magic in us,” Remy told the students, reminding them that walking in someone else’s shoes as actors translates into the life attribute of empathy.


The event was sponsored by NJM Insurance Group, with additional support from the Women’s Association of NJPAC.


Feb. 14, 2018