Sunday, March 16, 2003

Kids at 'Lion King' tryouts just can't wait to be stars

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Blake Selnick, 11, (center) sings a tune from The Lion King with child and adult actors auditioning for parts Saturday at the Arts Consortium of Cincinnati on Linn Street.
(Thomas E. Witte photo)
| ZOOM |
Ten-year-old Kayla Richardson is honest about what she wants to be when she grows up.

A lion. Specifically, one named Nala.

The Madisonville girl was one of nearly 600 adults and children angling for parts in the musical The Lion King on Saturday.

"I think I have a really good chance at being Nala" a lead female character in the show, said the seasoned veteran, who has had about a dozen lead stage roles already.

"Besides, I just like auditioning for things."

The singing auditions were hosted by the Cincinnati Black Theatre Company at the Arts Consortium of Cincinnati in the West End. Singers who make the cut could be replacements for the Broadway and national touring companies of the Disney production.

The number of parts available varies, because the show runs in many cities and with many touring companies.

As the current actors' contracts expire, new people are needed to fill those gaps for six months or a year.

The Cincinnati Black Theatre Company received about 600 inquiries before the auditions - many from across the country and beyond. One caller was a cruise ship actor, located off the coast of Chile.

What: The Lion King.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday through May 18.
Where: Fifth Third Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall, downtown.
Tickets: $20-$131.
Information: 241-7469.
"There's been an enormous amount of interest in this," said Don Sherman, executive director of the company. "We're very excited."

Adult auditions were by appointment only, while the children's auditions were open to anyone ages 9-12. While adults could sing a song of their choice, children had to sing a verse of "Just Can't Wait to be King," a song from the show.

"I sang it over and over for about two weeks," said Lauren Hawkins, 9, of Middletown.

Auditions are held in different cities as the show tours. Though this was the only audition in this region, casting directors plan to return.

"We can't always expect talent to hop on a plane to New York," said Kevin Kennison, casting associate for Disney Theatrical Productions. "So sometimes we try to find talent elsewhere."

The event coincides with the arrival at the Aronoff Center for the Arts of The Lion King, which opens Friday and plays through May 18.

"We constantly need new talent," Kennison said. "We don't always expect to find someone who's ready to step onto a Broadway stage tomorrow. But to find someone on the journey, that's exciting."

The real standouts have "openness, willingness and a vibrant spirit about them," he said. "I'm almost looking for a marathon athlete - someone who can do eight shows a week while constantly improving."

The hopefuls waited in a dance room - some pacing nervously, some organizing their resumes and glossy headshots.

"I really like to sing, and I want to perform in a Broadway show," said Mackenzie Duan, 9, of Clermont County.

"I just want to be a big star," said Karishma O'Brien, 11, of Deer Park.

Jenna Stanger, 9, of Oak Hills was persuaded to audition at the promise of an Elder High School sweatshirt.

"I'm not really the best at singing in front of people," she explained.

Her stepsister, 12-year-old Lisa Reymann, was more enthusiastic.

"I like the movie a lot," she said. "Sometimes my friends and I would pretend to be some of the characters."

All children were accompanied by a parent, like Tonya Collier of Price Hill, who brought 11-year-old Tevin to the auditions.

"This is what he likes doing," she said. "So I support it."

Correction: It's what Tevin loves doing. The boy has already done significant stage work, and last week was asked to audition for Star Search.

"Being on stage is fun," he said, with the shrug of an old pro.

Five children were invited for callback auditions in New York, including Kayla Richardson, who is one step closer to being Nala.


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