Hundreds at Broadway theater to help child actress

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by Marc Beja

NEW YORK (AP)—The cast and crew of “The Lion King” is trying to save the life of one of its own.

Eleven-year-old actress Shannon Tavarez was forced to quit the Broadway show in April after she was diagnosed with leukemia. Her physician, Dr. Larry Wolfe, said Tavarez needs a bone marrow transplant, but has been unable to find the perfect match. A partial match has been found, but a better one is being sought.

NeedsDonor
NEEDS DONOR—Eleven-year-old Shannon Tavarez, who starred in the Broadway musical “The Lion King,” relaxes in her room in the Bellrose section of Queens, N.Y. Tavarez has leukemia.

More than 700 people showed up to a bone marrow donor registration on July 23 at the Minskoff Theater, where the show is performed, and hundreds more signed up online. Members of the cast and crew helped the potential donors swab the inside of their cheeks to see if their tissue type matched Tavarez’ or anyone else needing a transplant.

Joel Karie, an ensemble member in the show, said he hoped a donor for Tavarez was found soon.

“We want her back on stage,” Karie, 33, said. “It’s frustrating to see someone who knows what they want to do and is so talented, and to have that dream put on hold.”

Katharina Harf, co-founder of the bone marrow registry DKMS, said it was particularly difficult to find a perfect match for Tavarez because her mother is African-American and her father is Hispanic. For bone marrow transplants, minorities and those of mixed ancestry have a more difficult time finding good matches. There aren’t as many people from those groups signed up as potential donors.

“It’s very hard to find donors that are mixed race,” said Harf, who helped organize the drive. “You’re looking for a genetic twin. It’s like finding the needle in a haystack.” She said it would take at least three weeks to find out if there were any matches from the drive.

Tavarez has already undergone chemotherapy, which has taken her long, curly brown hair. Doctors are awaiting the results of a recent test to decide whether she needs another round of chemo, which would put off any transplant for months.

She beat out hundreds of other hopefuls last year to earn her spot playing Young Nala, the girlfriend of the main “Lion King” character, Simba. She split the role with another girl, performing four shows a week for six months.

Khail Toi, who briefly shared that role with Tavarez and is still in the show, said she misses her friend.

“I would do anything to keep her alive,” Toi, 10, said. “It’s really hard to see her going through this, but she’s toughing it out and she’s not backing down.”

Child performers from “The Lion King” and other shows sold bracelets and key chains that read, “Shine for Shannon,” and plan to donate the money to help pay for her medical bills.

(Online: Shannon Tavarez: http://matchshannon.com)

(DKMS donor registry: http://www.getswab­bed.org)

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