Along with scores of other lucky families, Melanie Kahler took her son Charlie to see the Lion King on Broadway when he was six years old. And perhaps like a few other star-struck youngsters, the little boy was so inspired by the magical, award-winning performance he told his mother, “I think I can do that. Actually, I think I can do it better.”
Quite unlike pretty much every other child in the world who saw that performance, Charlie Kahler’s prediction is proving to be true. Now 10 years old, the Newark youngster has landed his dream role as Young Simba in the touring Disney production, which is showing to sellout crowds across the country.
Charlie and the show have just kicked off a four-week run in Milwaukee, when it will move on to South Bend, Indiana. The show will then travel to eight cities across the country through August 2nd.
The Sanford School fifth-grader first auditioned almost two years ago. About every three months casting directors called him back to take another look. Charlie says the multiple callbacks and back and forth drives to New York were stressful and he worried that he kept getting older.
He finally got the news he had been hoping for just before Christmas.
Charlie says that each audition looked like there were “a thousand other kids trying out” for the role of Simba. He’s not certain why he was chosen for the role this time around, but he is grateful. “I guess I just had a spark with the directors and like the creative team that time.”
After the final callback, Disney put him to work almost instantly, flying him to Cincinnati, where he would rehearse for a month before taking the stage on his own on January 31st.
“It’s just always been my dream. And then when I achieved it, when I got the call, I was like, ‘what?’ It means I can share my talent with the world, and it makes me happy to do it, too,” said Charlie.
Melanie, a teacher at Avon Grove Charter School, is dealing with all of the logistics. And while she says “it’s every parent’s dream to watch their child do what they love to do,” it does come with its challenges. “It’s definitely life-changing. But how could I say no? I had to make it happen,” she said.
Charlie and his mom aren’t the only ones who think that he was made for a role like Simba.
Delaware Children’s Theater Artistic Director Donna Swajeski calls Charlie a ‘triple threat,’ saying he can act, sing and dance. “He’s fearless on stage and is never intimidated. We all saw early on that he would go far. He’s been in almost every show I’ve directed — took any part and always delivered. You can hear that child’s voice from the back of the theatre. And in a couple of shows where I had a dance part, I let him choreograph it. He’s just that good,” she said.
For those who have seen the #1 musical in the world, we all know that the Young Simba has a lot of growing up to do when he prematurely assumes the role of King. Asked to describe his character, Charlie quipped, “The cub is kind of selfish and a showoff. He has a good heart, but he’s just not using it.”
The gregarious and happy student also happens to be a superb gymnast. “I do actually like to show off sometimes. I’m a gymnast. So, I do a lot of flips everywhere.”
He also says the production can be physically demanding, including many scenes where he has to wear a tight corset. “We have to do a lot of exercises to strengthen our core. And then I have to hop on top of an ostrich that’s 10 feet high wearing that corset. It’s tiring when you’re singing and riding way up high. It really takes your breath out of you,” he said.
But he says the hardest part of his role is navigating the strong geysers that shoot up from the floor of the stage. In one scene Charlie is laying six inches away from two of them. “The hardest thing to do is probably to not scream when they’re blowing.”
While he misses his friends at home, Charlie is enjoying the adventure of befriending seasoned actors who’ve spent their lives on stage. “This is going to sound really weird, but I’m an adult person. I like speaking to adults.” He also misses his pets – they have two cats and a dog.
The young thespian is well known in the local performing arts arena, having landed a variety of roles since first grade. The Delaware Children’s Theatre has starred Charlie as Tiny Tim in Scrooge, the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland, a baby bear in Shrek, an owl in Rumplestiltskin, the Elf King in Princess Truhart, and ensemble roles in Madagascar and Goldilox Detective Agency. And in each Swajeski says Charlie brought his very best.
He also has befriended everyone in the show, children and adults alike. “He’s just a very endearing child. He is just lovable, and he’s always hugging other cast members and people are always hugging him. After every rehearsal, he thanks me and hugs me and says goodnight,” says Swajeski.
While Charlie loves every aspect of being on stage, he says his first love is singing, and that’s what draws him to audition for just about any role in a drivable distance from his home in Newark.
Charlie also had roles in productions at Carousel Performing Arts and Wilmington Drama League, Everett Theatre, and the Candlelight Dinner Theatre. “One of my favorite roles was when I played a clown in Pippi Longstocking at The Grand, where I got to do cartwheels,” he says.
He’s honed those cartwheels skills at KMC in Kennett Square and the Hockessin Athletic Club, and he dances at Delaware Arts and Delaware Dance Company. Charlie also takes voice lessons with Emily Tepe and plays drums in the band at Sanford School.
Charlie jumped at the chance to audition for his first role in a musical at Sanford School last spring. Then a spunky 4th grader, he landed the role of Chip in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Performing Arts Department Chair Clint Williams found young Charlie perfect for the part. “His passion, energy, and determination are noteworthy,” said Williams.
Charlie will continue his studies this spring as a 5th grader at Sanford School in Hockessin, where teachers are working with a tutor who is traveling with Charlie and the other three children who play cubs in the traveling Broadway production.
“I love this experience. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to me and the most important role I’ve ever had,” Charlie told us, taking a break from rehearsals. “It’s just so incredible. You get to meet wonderful people. And they’re all so nice.”