The curtain rises, the music swells. and the lights come on. The audience is transformed to the plains of Africa, perhaps the Serengeti. You can almost feel the sand beneath your feet. You can almost see the herds of elephants. Simba, the lion cub and future king, is introduced to the animals — and to a packed audience.
Are these lucky viewers at a Broadway show? Nope, they are at Yeshivat Noam’s eighth-grade girls’ production of Disney’s “The Lion King.” (The girls-only performance was available on live stream and now can be seen on video, but because of the Orthodox proscription against kol isha — men hearing women’s voices — the live audience was restricted to women.)
For the last five years, Barbra Solomon has been the drama teacher who is in charge of these performances. She also has taught English and history to both sixth- and seventh-graders at the Paramus day school. Before she began to work on performances at Noam, she had been in charge of more than 25 performances in camps and other schools. “When I first started at Noam, both the school and my students knew that I had been involved with play production,” Ms. Solomon said. “The eighth grade girls wanted to do a play, so they approached me.” Her first production was “Aladdin.” Since then, the school has added a better sound system, but that still is a work in progress. Now, the system can support four wireless microphones, plus another stand-up one. The school hopes to add to that system, to benefit the productions and future school events. “It has been amazing working with the girls every year,” Ms. Solomon said. “The students meet in the beginning of the year and vote on which show they want to perform.”
That’s in September, when the school year starts. After the school decides which show to produce, several weeks of tryouts follow; casting is final at the end of October. Every girl who auditions becomes a part of the experience, whether as a cast member, an extra, or working on the production side. Students paint the scenery, help with lighting, and learn about many aspects of what it takes to make a live performance happen.
According to Ms. Solomon, the girls take it very seriously, “They rehearse once a week until a month before the show, and then there are two rehearsals a week,” she said. “The entire production is a learning experience.”
Abigail Lerer of Teaneck, a seventh-grader at Yeshivat Noam, has seen all the performances Ms. Solomon has produced. “The first one I saw was ‘Aladdin,’ and I thought it was really good,” Abigail said. She was only in third grade at the time. “But this year, as a seventh grader, I am really looking forward to being a part of the production next year,” she continued. “This year’s performance was amazing, but next year, when my friends and I are in eighth grade, it will be even better!”
Melissa Keiser and Mugsy Sheinfeld are the proud parents of Yakira and Carly, who portrayed the hyenas in the show. “I was so impressed with how seriously the girls took the show,” Ms. Keiser said. “If they weren’t doing homework, they were rehearsing their lines. My older daughter was in her class performance as well, and it has become a right of passage for the girls.
“Carly has expressed to me how her last year at Noam was made even better because of her involvement in the Lion King,” Ms. Sheinfeld said. “There have been so many things that she has loved about school, and this was at the top of her list.” The audience consisted not only of family members, but of girls from the younger grades as well. “This is something that the entire school looks forward to because we all feel like we are family,” Abigail said. “Everyone gets excited about seeing the show because we know how hard all of our friends and their sisters worked on it.”