Arts & Entertainment Community Education

Harbor Ridge students stage ‘Lion King’ with help from foundation

Posted on February 13th, 2023 By:

Students at Harbor Ridge Middle School entertained their peers Friday with a performance of “The Lion King Jr.”

The beloved musical (adapted for youth actors) came to life through familiar songs, dramatic moments and silly punch lines from comic characters like Pumbaa the Warthog. It was the culmination of six weeks’ work for the cast and crew of 40 students. Many of them had never been in a play before.

Scar (Tia Hansen), surrounded by hyenas, sings “Be Prepared” in Harbor Ridge Middle School’s performance of “The Lion King Jr.” on Feb. 10, 2023.

Chelsea Paige Foundation

The production was a partnership between the school and Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It was sponsored by the Chelsea Paige Foundation, a local organization that brings enrichment experiences into schools. The foundation also supports programs like Backpacks for Kids and Girls on the Run that benefit youth in Gig Harbor and on the Key Peninsula.

“Our foundation aims to serve women and children in Pierce County and primarily serving Gig Harbor,” said Paige Schulte, who founded the Chelsea Paige Foundation in 2016, naming it after her younger daughter.

Schulte, who moved to Gig Harbor in 2015, is also the founder of Neighborhood Experts Real Estate. In California, she was an entrepreneur working in the area of after-school programming. She wanted to give students in Peninsula School District opportunities to explore the arts and science and to supplement what the district has to offer.

“I worked with 170 schools, so I knew after-school programming like the back of my hand, and I knew the value of getting kids together and getting them involved in things like this,” Schulte said. “I really wanted to bring quality programming that was really hands-on into schools.”

Grown-up Simba (Davis Walker) feels his father’s presence as Mufasa (Kaizlee Lenker) looks over him while Rafiki (Sophie Nelson), left, sings “He Lives in You” in Harbor Ridge Middle School’s performance of “The Lion King Jr.” on Feb. 10, 2023.

She established the Chelsea Paige Foundation in 2016 and began bringing theater programs to schools within the district. In 2017, Schulte got her real estate license. A portion of each sale goes to the foundation, making it self-sustaining. This year, the foundation’s budget is $100,000.

In-school events

The foundation has sponsored in-school events like kindness assemblies, bringing in professional speakers, and STEM events. One STEM event featured a giant dome that created a planetarium inside Evergreen Elementary School.

In-school programming was on hiatus during the pandemic. Instead, the foundation made capital donations to Peninsula High School’s drama program during that time.

The foundation meets other needs as well. This year, it paid for wobble chairs at the Goodman Middle School library.

Harbor Ridge is one of four Peninsula schools that will have foundation-sponsored after-school theater programs this year. Tacoma Musical Playhouse will also work with students at Pioneer Elementary to produce an adaptation of “The Lion King.” Tacoma Little Theater staff will work with Harbor Heights Elementary on “The Jungle Book,” and with Kopachuck Middle School on “Mary Poppins.”

Working with professionals

The Harbor Ridge students practiced nearly two hours a day, four days a week after school for six weeks. They worked under the direction of Tacoma Musical Playhouse staff members Kayla Littleton, Madison Watkins and Caylin Morrison. The playhouse provided the costumes, props, scenery and audio.

“It’s been great to have the kids be able to perform and bring theater into our school in a way that’s manageable,” said Ginger Tanneberg, language arts teacher and the staff liaison with the playhouse. “Tacoma Musical Playhouse coming in and bringing everything has made it so much easier, because we don’t have a drama program right now.”

Zazu (Oliver Pinch), left, entertains Scar (Tia Hansen) with an annoying song in Harbor Ridge Middle School’s performance of “The Lion King Jr.” on Feb. 10, 2023.

Littleton, director of education for the playhouse, welcomes the partnership.

“It’s very exciting to us that the Chelsea Paige Foundation supports bringing theater into the Gig Harbor community,” Littleton said. “Being able to come into these schools and work with kids who wouldn’t otherwise get to do theater is a real pleasure for us.”

The school’s volunteer parent organization sponsored production materials for the show.

In addition to performing for the student body Friday morning, the students put on shows Friday evening and Saturday for families and friends.

The cast performs “Circle of Life” in Harbor Ridge Middle School’s performance of “The Lion King Jr.” on Feb. 10, 2023.