July 1, 2003 – On Monday morning, the Reichhold Center for the Arts gallery was transformed into a holding area for the first of two days of auditions for future replacements in the U.S. touring and Broadway productions of "The Lion King," and the air rang with the sounds of hopeful singers warming up their voices in preparation for a shot at the Great White Way.
With eight productions of "The Lion King" currently running worldwide and two more scheduled to go into rehearsal as early as August, Disney Theatricals, the play's producer, has had to search far and wide to find performers capable of handling the show's rigorous physical and vocal demands. After audition stops at the larger Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Trinidad, the search team found its way to St. Thomas.
In May, Disney representatives contacted Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards to find out how to go about conducting auditions in the Virgin Islands. Richards put them in contact with Reichhold director David Edgecombe, who then made the arrangements to accommodate a casting team.
Mark Brandon of Binder Casting in New York ran the auditions, accompanied by "Lion King" supervising director Steven Minning, music director Colin Welford and production dance supervisor Marey Griffith.
"This is such a hard show to cast, anyway, and with eight productions running simultaneously, we have to consider everything," Minning said during a break between singers at Monday's session. "Any talent we can develop … we're always looking."
That a show of this caliber has come to St. Thomas in search of new talent is unprecedented in the territory's history. But what is perhaps more exciting is what they found when they got here.
Edgecombe told the Source in June that he hoped "to provide Disney with enough talented people so that they stay interested in the Virgin Islands, not only for 'The Lion King' casting, but for all of their productions." His hope, it seems, has come true.
Of the 30 singers who turned out for the audition on Monday, four were given "Lion King" materials and asked to prepare them for a callback on Tuesday afternoon; of the dozen dancers who auditioned on Tuesday, two were called back. Those numbers are unusually high in the world of open auditions, where a casting agent might typically hope to call back one or two out of every 50 performers.
As a result, Brandon said, he is planning to return again, "maybe in December or February, whenever the maximum number of performers will be on island." He added that next time he plans to schedule the auditions on the weekend or in the evening, when they won't interfere with people's day jobs.
Brandon said he felt that the turnout was great and that the auditioners overall were "professional, well prepared and just well put-together, compared to other places we've held auditions."
Government House public relations officer Lee Vanterpool, a former New York City Ballet dancer and a member of the Reichhold Advisory Board, helped out at the auditions. He said he was pleased at the number of people who showed up but that there "are more talented people in the Virgin Islands than were at these auditions." Some of them didn't show up because it's summer vacation time, he said, and many people, particularly young people, are off-island.
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