The Lion King Jr. will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, March 10, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12.

After months of practice, Hannibal Middle School students displayed their hard work through song, dance and acting during their first dress rehearsal for The Lion King Jr. on Wednesday, March 8.

Director Caitlin Spencer and Assistant Director Stacey Mueller commended parents, community members and a dedicated cast and crew for joining together to deliver a unique performance. Spencer said she drew considerable inspiration from the Broadway version of the popular tale, and the students responded with fervor through their singing, dancing and acting, ready for weekend presentations beginning today in the Hannibal Middle School Auditorium.

“They are very enthusiastic about this story,” Spencer said. “And they have lots of energy.”

Spencer said learning African dialect for spoken word and songs was new for her, and the children immersed themselves in African culture, reflected in the costumes their parents made for the production. Assistant Director Stacey Mueller said other schools throughout the district have helped get the word out about the production. Parents also crafted the sets, Spencer said, and students from Holy Family School joined in the first dress rehearsal — a milestone that tied everything together. From familiar songs to unique costumes and characters, several members of the cast and crew singled out personal highlights from The Lion King Jr.

“One of my favorites is actually ‘Be Prepared,’ because it’s just a wonderful song, and I love it so much,” said sixth grader Caylee Cox, who plays the role of Banzai the hyena.

Seventh grade student Cailee Combs remembered that mastering the choreography for “Be Prepared” marked a big milestone for the cast and crew members “because we felt accomplished after we got it all done.”

As members of the stage crew silently readied the sets between scenes during the dress rehearsal, fellow students shone spotlights down on cast members with each chapter of the popular tale. Interpreters Bekah Voepel and Natalie Lovitt share the story in a way Lovitt described as “fun and exciting,” performing sign language and gestures on stage during each song and scene. For sixth grader Garrett Heaton, who played Young Simba, the third scene was his favorite.

“It’s like the main part where it’s just me and Mufasa talking,” Heaton said.

Eighth grader Spencer Street plays adult Simba, recounting the journey that leads to him challenging Scar for his rightful place on the throne. Fellow eighth student Evie Rodenbaugh, who played Scar, said she enjoyed the chance to jump into a role that was new for her.

“This year I have my own song and it’s very fun, it’s a very powerful song,” she said. “Previously, I have most of the time been the comedy relief, and this year I’m the villain. It’s completely different for me, and it’s really fun.”

For eighth grader Ellie Locke, the comedic role of Timon was a perfect fit.

“I get to crack a lot of jokes, and it doesn’t matter in the play if they laugh at it or not,” Locke said. “It makes me laugh at myself because people don’t usually think I’m that funny, and to play a character that is funny, is just kind of my thing to do.”

Rodenbaugh said that the rehearsal process drew many members of the team closer along the way.

“I like the people that I’ve met because a lot of the friends I made are not in my grade, and so I haven’t had the chance to meet some of these people yet.”

Street said he looked forward to the opportunity to share the Lion King Jr. with family and friends.

“I really think they’re going to enjoy it, and I think it’s going to be a really good program,” he said. “We have four programs going this year, so it’s going to be more popular, I feel, and it’s going to be fun.”

The Lion King Jr. will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, March 10, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12. Tickets are $5 for adults 19 years old and up, $2 for children six years old and up and free for children five years and younger. Family passes, which include tickets for two adults and two or more children, are $12. Please call the Hannibal Middle School at (573)221-5840 for more information.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com