Strom Thurmond students excited to bring ‘Lion King Jr.’ to stage

The Strom Thurmond High School theater program is bringing “The Lion King Jr.” to the stage for the public starting this weekend.
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 6:21 PM EDT
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JOHNSTON, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Strom Thurmond High School theater program is bringing “The Lion King Jr.” to the stage for the public starting this weekend.

Public shows kick off Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Public shows will continue next weekend on April 29 at 7 p.m. and April 30 at 3:30 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased for $10 online at

Cast members Tobias Knight, who plays Mufasa’s evil brother Scar, and Jari Smith, who portrays the fun and rambunctious Pumbaa, say they’ve approached this production differently from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“The school shows allow us to perform for students who will be the future of our theatre program,” Tobias said. “Seeing all their smiles and making them laugh is always fun.”

“Everybody knows ‘The Lion King,’ so it puts that much more pressure on us to do well,” Jari added.

From a character development perspective, Tobias, who played the gallant Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast,” says the scheming and manipulative Scar requires a totally different type of performance on stage.

“He’s a completely different character than Lumiere, which is exactly what I was looking for,” Tobias said. “He’s a real villain.”

Jari wants his performance of Pumbaa to be far removed from his portrayal of Cogsworth in “Beauty and the Beast.”

“This is my second play, so I’ve really had to get out of that Cogsworth character,” Jari said. “Pumbaa is this foil character for everyone else. He acts as though he’s not that smart when he really is, especially in the star scene when we talk about what the stars are, and that’s different from Cogsworth, who was the leader of the household.”

In the end, the young actors say engaging with their audiences and experiencing the joy in those moments on stage makes the many long and repetitive hours of practice more than worth it.

“If we can get the kids excited multiple times in each show, it’s a good show,” stated Jari.

Tobias added: “Our paycheck is hearing that audience.”

The cast

Cast members, who portray both animal characters and important physical elements such as grass or parts of the jungle, include the following students: Lillian Cockrell (Jungle), Cleo Heitman (Grass), Jessie Dampier (ZaZu), Ayden Culver (Mufasa), Olivia O’Gorman (Young Nala), Truman Massey (Young Simba), Molly Harling (Sarabi), Khyia Surry (Giraffe), Jenna Blue (Grass), Hailey Lyle (Grass), Reece Lowe (Jungle), Colton Johnson (Ed), Shakyla Jones (Grass), Lila Wood (Lioness), Kiersten Skinner (Shenzi), Tobias Knight (Scar), Mariah Norris (Grass), Ze’Mira Wakefield (Grass), Jericka Jones-Mason (Lioness), Natalie Dolph (Lioness), Sunasia Saxon (Lioness), Jenasys Washington (Lioness), Riley Brightharp (Lioness), Kamber Rawls (Grass), Mina Allen (Rafiki), Shamarion Freeman (Grass), Nate Millings (Grass), Daniel Mims (Timon), Ella Mathis Miller (Nala), Dawson Kulp (Simba), Jari Smith (Pumbaa), Ayaliah Williams (Grass), Dylan Rose (Gazelle), Payton Jackson (Jungle), Makayla Rushton (Bonzai), Chris Reed (Grass), Harmony Williams-Talbert (Jungle) and Evan lee (Giraffe/Jungle).