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ART BEAT: All youth version of Disney's "Jungle Book" will support Norcross Co-op Ministry

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Special Photo "The Jungle Book" cast in rehearsal. Left to right: Kylie Szymanski, Blake Rhinehart, Denzel Marquez, Jordan Kupersmith, Tori-Alyana Kai, Emily Tso and Mahlon Phillips.

A cast of 28 young actors, a backstage crew of four teens and a 15-year-old director will combine their youthful talents to produce the Disney musical "Jungle Book," opening at the Lionheart Theatre on July 20. Not only is the production a showcase for some of Gwinnett's young talent, the show will also benefit area youth through Norcross Cooperative Ministry.

The play will run at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. July 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. July 21 and at 2 p.m. July 22. All tickets are $10 and reservations are highly recommended by calling 678-938-8518.

Lionheart will be donating a portion of ticket sales and the theater will collect school supplies for young students through Norcross Cooperative Ministry at each performance.

"So many families are struggling just to put food on the table and pay their electric bills that when August comes around, many times they just can't afford school supplies," co-op Director Shirley Cabe said.

Last year, the co-op gave away about 900 bags with basic school supplies to students in need. Ticketholders might consider bringing the most-needed items to the theater: new book bags, three-prong pocket folders, wide rule notebook paper, black and white composition books and pens with blue ink.

Another unique aspect of the production is its all-youth cast, particularly its 15-year-old director Sam Casey, who will enter the 10th grade at Greater Atlanta Christian School this fall.

Sam Casey is the son of Lionheart's Sean Casey, and the young actor/director is no stranger to the theater -- onstage or backstage.

"I have been acting since I was 5 and have been in many shows over the years," Sam Casey said. "My favorites are 'Beauty and the Beast' where I played the role of Cogsworth, 'Godspell' where I performed the part of Jesus, and 'Seussical' where I was the Cat in the Hat.

"A year ago I volunteered to direct the kids show at Lionheart. I have always loved the technical and production aspects of theater. As the director, I need to have a full understanding of the show, see the big picture, and plan the smallest details."

He was also stage manager for Lionheart's "Velveteen Rabbit" and for Smoke Rise Academy of Art's "Wizard of Oz." He also participated in Onion Man Production's directing workshop.

"It was a wonderful experience where we were taught the basics of putting together a show and then had the opportunity to direct our own ten minute play," he said. It was the best preparation I could have asked for."

Casey finds the all youth cast experience to have many benefits.

"The biggest advantage to having an all youth production is rehearsals are effective and less stressful," Casey said. "We hope to leave our audience with the classic songs stuck in their heads and a big smile on their faces."

Lionheart Theatre is located at 10 College St. in Historic Norcross at the College Street Playhouse. For more information about this production and many others activities, visit www.lionhearttheatre.org or call 678-938-8518.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.