Broadway production comes alive with costumes made by MRA students, faculty
More than 6,500 feet of twine, four languages, 2,000 mini glue sticks, 82 sixth through 12th-graders, 58-and-counting K5 through fifth-graders - this is what’s gone into creating the Lion King production at Madison Ridgeland Academy (MRA).
Drama Director Dawn Blanton has worked tirelessly since last summer getting props, puppets, costumes and set pieces started for the big show.
Joining in the work is Brittnye Aven, who started as MRA’s assistant drama director in August.
This will be the first year MRA has presented the Lion King, which means all props, costumes and the set have been newly built from scratch.
“I chose the show even before Brittnye was hired, not knowing what would come next in the music department. But, I knew I had a wonderful cast that could potentially fit those roles and also wanted to do a large spectacle-type show that would involve children from K5 to 12th-grade.”
In the previous three years, Dawn has helped produce The Little Mermaid Junior, High School Musical and Beauty and the Beast.
Having already worked on some of the props and costumes since the summer, casting was held in November, measurements were taken in November and December, and costuming began in January.
“Then we start rehearsals in January pretty lightly and then heavier in February. March is always difficult because of spring break and sometimes Easter. Then we usually perform the first or second week of April… This year, we started with puppetry and costumes — as far as the masks go, things that didn’t require a size for a particular cast member — as early as June, just knowing that there were extra pieces and props that we would have to create from zero,” Dawn said.
The inspiration for the costumes was largely drawn from the Broadway rendition of “The Lion King,” according to Dawn.
“It’s been all hands on deck,” Brittnye said. “One of the grassland girls skirts, that’s a very secondary character — they’re just scenery — I think our team spent 30 man-labor hours on one skirt.”
“Over 300 feet of twine in one skirt, and we’ve used over 6,500 feet of twine in the show so far,” Dawn added. “And we think
we’re over 2,000 mini glue sticks.”
Dawn’s attention to detail has not gone unnoticed, and she’s recruited friends and family from across the country to help create the brand-new costumes and design for the production.
“She has poured love into every single detail,” Brittnye said. “There has not been one little mark that hasn’t been the best that it could be.”
Some of the masks have been sculpted using thermoplastic and clay before being hand painted, detailed and fitted with a construction helmet insert, and many costumes have been handsewn. Much of the creation of costumes has come from Dawn’s research and reading costume books on how to create each piece.
“The fun part about the costumes for this show is that most of the set pieces are the people in costume,” Dawn said. “We have one large set piece that’s our pride rock. One of our dads built it for us. He also built the ramp that becomes Scar’s lair, and it’s also used for the elephant graveyard scene… Then the kids become the scenery with their costumes. Like the grass is grasslands. We bring jungle pieces, jungle characters on for foliage for the Hakuna Matata scenes, Circle of Life and Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
Backlighting is also used to accent the cast members’ formation of the scenery throughout the show.
“That’s what’s really unusual about this show.”
Dawn’s favorite part about the process has been the parents’ involvement in helping create the show.
“They have really, really come on board to participate and come alongside,” she said.
Dawn said one lady at the cultural center offered to spend a Saturday with the crew sewing. Dawn’s mother, who lives in Kansas, is producing most of the sewn costumes.
“She travels to Mississippi twice, and this show has taken her three times, and, actually, she’ll come a fourth time. My brother and his wife came and built our Pumba puppet for us. My sister-in-law also built our Zazu puppet for us.”
Similar to Dawn, her brother and sister-in-law are actors in Los Angeles, allowing them to help her build the set for the fantastic upcoming production.
“My aunt in Utah sewed for us. One of the other grandmothers, who lives in Texas, is mailing us a dress that she has made for our feature bird… So, we have just recruited and recruited… We have a core group of moms that have shown up Saturday after Saturday.”
Even faculty members, students and the art department have assisted in the production. Dawn said this is the first time the school and she and Brittnye have done The Lion King, and the first time a show has required this much work.
“It’s totally new to us.”
Despite the amount of time and effort put into the production, Dawn and Brittnye still both connect deeply with the show.
“We have been in it for months and months, and we’ve heard it thousands of times, and we still get emotional when they’re singing and doing it,” Brittnye said. “It’s just something so special about this play. It just makes a really big connection.”
The Lion King will be held April 13 and 14 at the Madison Cultural Center for the Arts.
“(It will be at) 7 p.m. on both nights and then a 2 p.m. matinee on April 14,” Dawn said. “And there’ll be a tea party at noon on April 14 just prior to the matinee performance, and the children can come and meet the cast and have some snacks and sit at a table and watch the show from their table on the floor.”
On March 27, Dawn and Brittnye created a teaser for the school, with cast members performing The Circle of Life.
“That was just a promo,” Brittnye said. “That was our first time to reveal anything.”
“We just did a devotion performance for the elementary school yesterday, and we did The Circle of Life only, so we brought out the zebras and the cheetah and elephant and rhino and the gazelles and the birds,” Dawn said.
Dawn began working at MRA four years ago as assistant director. After three years, this is her first year as director as well as an admissions counselor.
She was graduated from Mississippi State University in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She also has a master’s from the University of Maryland.
A native of Coffeeville, she met her husband, who was completing the Army ROTC program, at State.
The couple have four sons, all of whom have performed in musicals and plays.
“I’ve been involved in community theater and children’s musical theater since my oldest was about 8, so 14 years… We were previously at Lamar School. My husband was head of school at Lamar School in Meridian, and I worked in their drama department and was drama instructor three and just taught part-time and did their musicals.”
Brittnye founded the show choir at Madison Central High School before starting a family, after which she worked at Clinton High School, where she established their choir program.
“They already had an amazing show choir situation going,” Brittnye said. “So, I went and kind of started their choir program, got it built, got it going and had my second little one. I stayed home for three years and taught private voice lessons. MRA called me this time last year. There was an opening, and here I am, rockin’ and rollin’.”