Novice lands starring role in ‘The Lion King Jr.’


Eighth-grader Ritvik V. has proven himself as a member of the Florida Association of Mu Alpha Theta, MathCounts, Future Problem Solvers, as well as Space Coast’s soccer team, but none of those pursuits helped prepared him for his latest extracurricular activity: playing the key role of Young Simba in the theater department’s upcoming middle-school presentation of Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.”

“I haven’t even watched a play,” Ritvik said. “I barely knew what Broadway was until the beginning of this year.”

Ritvik’s decision to audition for the musical was prompted by encouragement from his friends, including eighth-graders McKenna S., Grant N. and Deklyn G.

“I have sixth period gym with Grant and McKenna,” Ritvik said. “On the day of the audition, they were talking about ‘The Lion King Jr.’ and I was like ‘What’s that?’ Grant told me to try out for it, so I texted my dad and he said ‘Fine.’ He let me audition.”

Despite not participating in theater performances prior to ‘The Lion King Jr.,’ Ritvik said he decided to take the opportunity to try something new with his friends and see what happened.

“My dad was motivating me to get out of my comfort zone,” Ritvik said. “Grant was like ‘Just do it. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t get a role, it’s not going to hurt too much.’”

Going into the Jan. 22 audition, Ritvik said he had never acted or sang before, but gave it his best effort when he was asked to sing “Happy Birthday” and recite a dialogue from the performance.

“Everyone said that I did well,” Ritvik said. “But I couldn’t tell if that was out of being polite. I thought I did decent on the script reading, but I’m not sure how I did with singing.”

Ritvik’s friend, McKenna S., who has performed in shows on campus as well as at the Henegar Center — including “Sweeney Todd” and “West Side Story” —said that she was excited to see Ritvik audition.

“He went in expecting to be a blade of grass,” McKenna said. “We went in half-expecting him to be a blade of grass. So it was definitely surprising.”

The cast list was revealed the following day.

“The second I got cast as Young Simba, I texted everyone in caps lock on the group chat. One of my friends, Deklyn, had posted who had gotten what role,” Ritvik said. “Everyone was happy because they got the characters that they wanted. McKenna got Nala and Grant got Old Simba. And I got Young Simba somehow.”

Ritvik will be singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Hakuna Matata”. He also has a duet with the character Mufasa.

“Halfway through ‘Hakuna Matata’  — which is the end of Act One — Grant switches with me as Old Simba,” Ritvik said. “Young Simba goes across a bridge —McKenna calls it ‘the puberty bridge’ — and then he becomes Old Simba.”

The show will premiere Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m in the school auditorium.

“I think the cast is really good but also the show itself is really pretty and the music is amazing,” McKenna said. “[Ritvik] has a lot of lines and a major song. ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ is the song that everyone thinks about when they think of ‘The Lion King’. It’s definitely a lot of pressure to be a lead for your first show but I think he will be OK.”

The theater department welcomes students from different backgrounds and experiences to come together in creating a show to transport audiences to a different world, even if only for an hour or two.

“I encourage everyone to give [theater] a shot, because it’s a really good time,” McKenna said. “It’s a bunch of time hanging out with really cool people. I love the adrenaline of Opening Night shows. Everyone is so nervous and the stage lights go down and everyone is like ‘Ooooh’. It’s all very exciting.”

As this will his first theater performance, Ritvik will receive aid from other students in the show and rehearse under the guidance of Theater Director Maureen Fallon.

“I plan on talking to McKenna, Grant and Deklyn because they are super experienced,” Ritvik said. “They are probably going to give me some singing tips. I think that I can recite the lines pretty well, I just need [my friends] to proofread. The hardest part of the performance will be mending up my singing.”

The cast will be memorizing lines and lyrics as they rehearse in the weeks to come.

“I think that the people cast in the roles are going to do it a lot of justice,” McKenna said. “Theater is interesting. It’s different than anything else because it gives you an opportunity to transport yourself and be a different person for a while. And also you put all of this work into something and you feel like you’ve created something special. So many people come into making this product, and when it finally comes together it’s a nice moment for everybody. And it’s nice for the people who get to watch [the performance] too.”

The status quo is not holding Ritvik back from trying something new, and he hopes to express that to his audience.

“I want to prove to myself that I’m not bad at theater,” Ritvik said.

By Sophia Bailly


Editor’s note: Brevard Public Schools policy prohibits the inclusion of middle-schoolers’ last names on district websites.