A unique show takes the stage in Mesa after two-year hiatus

The city’s “Adaptive Theater” program features young actors and actresses with various intellectual disabilities.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 9:02 PM MST
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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A unique stage tradition returned to Mesa after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. The city’s “Adaptive Theater” program features young actors and actresses with various intellectual disabilities.

Their 2022 production of “The Lion King” was a welcome return to the stage for the cast and their proud parents. “It’s overwhelming to me,” said Jackie Mandujano, whose son, Andrew, played a hyena. Her daughter, Allyson, was a lioness. “This is what I laid in bed many years ago dreaming about, and wishing they could be part of something like this,” she said.

Director Matt Erickson says he isn’t aware of a similar program of this size anywhere in the country. “It’s so sad to say, but a lot of these kids in high school never got the chance to be in a show. This is their chance,” he said.

They built momentum through a series of shows at Red Mountain High School, but the shows, along with most activities, halted in 2020. “I’m just so excited that we’re back,” said Noah Christensen, who played Simba in the show.

“I was bored at home without things like this,” echoed Bella Walpole, who played Timon.

The cast took on the challenges of learning the lines, songs, and dances with the help of a team of volunteers who work with Mesa’s adaptive programs. “I’m totally different from [the villain lion] Scar, but I learned to act and sound just like him,” said Jaden Cordova.

Parents, who helped build the sets and create the 300 costumes needed to bring “The Lion King” to life, can’t stop gushing about the performance, the show’s director, and the volunteers who made it happen. “They’re all here for one purpose. They’re all here to make each person on stage shine for three nights. It’s truly remarkable,” she said.

Equally thankful was Bill Davis, whose daughter Andrea missed performing and socializing during the pandemic break. “It helps her socialization skills, her speech, and helps her experience life and come out of her shell,” he said.

“Last night they said they’re so proud and happy. You can’t get a better feeling than that as a parent,” Mandujano said, adding her teens are already looking forward to next year’s show.

The theater program is one of many activities available to Mesa teens and adults with developmental disabilities. The cast members also participate in everything from cooking classes to sports throughout the year.