African animals saunter down the aisles. Stars glow overhead. Grass grows on the horizon. Pride Rock towers in the distance. The elaborate costumes and set design send audience members deep into the Serengeti before the first words of the Zulu language are uttered by actors for the iconic opening song.

So begins the Dickson High School music department’s 2019 production of “The Lion King Jr.,” which opens on Thursday with two daily performances through Saturday. “The Lion King Jr.” is a 60-minute adaptation of the Disney story that was first made into an animated feature film in 1994. It was adapted for the stage in 1997 and won a Tony Award for best musical, and most recently was remade as a live-action movie.

“I think it’s kind of cool that it fits with the new Lion King that’s just coming out,” said senior Messena Darter.

Nearly five dozen cast and crew members will tell the story of Simba, a curious lion cub who struggles to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and his destiny as king. The musical will also feature classic songs from the animated film, including “Hakuna Matata” and the Academy Award-winning “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

Director Thelesa Taylor says this has been one of the most labor-intensive musicals she has been a part of. "So much work and dedication from these students will make this show an unforgettable one for the books,“ she said.

Cast and crew were going through dress rehearsals late last week to prepare. Two months after auditions were first held, senior Jaci Davidson says the last few issues are now being worked out before opening day.

“Everyone’s worked so hard on it together, but it’s really fun,” she said.

The music department has done musical productions each year, most recently “Mary Poppins” and “Elf.” Senior Hanna Saucer says she thinks the music department has been getting better as younger classes come up through the program. “We’re really excited to see what they do with it,” she said.

“The Lion King Jr.” will be performed on Thursday, Nov. 7 and Friday, Nov. 8 at the Dickson High School auditorium, with 9:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. showings each day. On Saturday, Nov. 9, a matinee performance will be at 2 p.m. and a reservations-only showing at 7 p.m. All tickets will be $5.

To make reservations for the Saturday evening performance, call (580) 226-0633, ext. 632.