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Hear them roar

Celebrate the magic of live theater, as the Hawaii Children’s Theatre’s ‘Summer Stars’ program presents its “Rising Stars Gala Showcase and Fundraiser” and “The Lion King, JR.”

The Gala is on Thursday, July 13 at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for silent auction and dinner for purchase and the show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Gala are $8 in advance or $10 at the door.

The Lion King, JR. performances are Friday, July 14 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 15 and Sunday, July 16 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

Info: 246-8985 and www.hawaiichildrenstheatre.org

PUHI — Fifty-five keiki. Twenty songs. Three performances. One week to curtain.

Add it up, and you’ve got the Hawaii Children’s Theatre’s performance of “Lion King, JR.”

“We have a wonderful group of kids,” said director Rebecca Hanson. “They’re very focused. They want to be here. They’re working hard, having fun and making friends.”

And turning into animals. At least, on stage.

“There are no humans in this show,” Hanson said, laughing.

There are lions, hyenas, buzzards, a baboon, a hornbill, a meerkat and a warthog in the Pride Lands. The cast, ages 8 to 14, has been learning how to move like these creatures.

They’re learning about the circle of life with Rafiki, Simba, Mufasa, Nala, Scar, Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa and Banzai. They’ll be singing, dancing, leaping, jumping and crawling as they bring the popular musical to life.

“It’s like running a marathon,” Hanson said. “You’ve got to keep it up, you’ve got to keep it strong. They’re pushing through it. They’re getting stronger every day.”

Leilani Goldberg, 12, is playing Nala.

“I’ve never been an animal before, so it’s cool to experiment with different movements,” she said.

“I’m a little nervous about having a lead role because I’ve never gotten a lead role before, but I think I’ll do pretty well,” Leilani added.

The “Rising Stars Gala Showcase and Fundraiser” is on Thursday, July 13 at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for silent auction and dinner for purchase and the show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Gala are $8 in advance or $10 at the door.

The “Lion King, JR.” performances are Friday, July 14 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 15 and Sunday, July 16 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

HCT’s Summer Stars program is in full swing at the Puhi theater.

The afternoon program led by Hanson is focused on preparing for The Lion King JR.

Bailey Hutton oversees the morning program, which focuses on developing theater skills as they ready for the showcase and performances. Each day, it covers acting, music and dance for keiki as young as 5. It also includes workshops on different areas like drumming and makeup.

Hutton said new and returning keiki enroll each year. Some come in shy and uncertain and leave with pride and confidence.

“I love to see them not be so fearful of who they are, embracing themselves,” he said. “When they go through the program, they are just 100 percent themselves.”

He recalled that last year, one student sat far from the group and wasn’t wild about participating.

“This year, you couldn’t get her out of the scene,” he said.

“She’s just like full on theater geek,” Hanson added.

Taj Gutierrez became involved in HCT’s Summer Stars in 2008, and this year, is assisting the director and the stage manager.

“It’s like a safe place for people like me, really out there people. I grew up with the Summer Stars, HCT. This is a place I feel I can give it my all as an actor as really just go all out and not be judged, be supported,” Gutierrez said.

Which is what Hutton likes to hear. He said HCT is about young people finding their niche and learning there are others who share their passion for acting.

“They’re glad to find a space that was built to accommodate them,” he said.

“We need a place to express and you’re not always given that. It gives us purpose (as directors) to know we’re cultivating that side,” he said.

Hanson said HCT helps keiki learn to focus and to find out more about who they are.

“Theater is really a great place where we harness that energy and strangeness that theater people have,” she said.

HCT has students from throughout the island, many who have never met each other.

“They leave here with new friendships, stronger confident in who they are,” she said.

For Hanson and Hutton, it’s long hours preparing students for the gala and the performances. But in ways, it’s a gift.

“There is this moment of performance, all the lights go on and you just see them glow,” Hanson said. “All their hard work pays off. Then, they’re just beaming. That’s the moment for me.”

“For me, it’s watching their growth,” Hutton said. “It’s great to see how talented they are at that level.”

Being in Summer Stars, Goldberg said, has pushed her beyond her comfort zone, which she decided is a good thing.

“I think this play is helping me get out there more,” she said.

Parker Reed, 12, has been involved with Summer Stars six years. For Lion King JR., she’ll be playing a hyena and a bird.

“I really, really enjoy it,” she said. “We all get along, we all work together,” she said. “Everybody really enjoys it.”

She’s especially looking forward to, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.”

“That’s probably my favorite scene,” she said.

Skylar Shim, 8, landed the role of Rafiki. When told she had it, it was wonderful.

“My sister came running into my room in the morning saying, ‘You got Rafiki,’” Skylar said.

She is both thrilled and nervous, as she is in the opening scene. Her new friends have helped her overcome fears. She said when she moved to Kauai two years ago, she came out for HCT’s Summer Stars program.

“I was like, all nervous because I didn’t really know anyone but my grandparents,” she said.

Not anymore.

“I met all these nice people in my group,” she said. “We just have a blast together.”

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