This whole story is ultimately about tenacity. It begins with studio executives at Disney committing to making the hand drawn animated feature film “The Lion King.” The film got made through a heavy dose of tenacity on the part of Disney executives and animators. It paid off handsomely when the film was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. It then won two Oscars and became one of the highest grossing animated films of all times. Then it went to Broadway. In November 2013 “The Lion King” celebrated its 16th year on Broadway and became the 4th longest running show on Broadway to date. It also won a dazzling six Tony awards and with no sign of slowing down is well on its way to becoming the show with the longest run on Broadway in history. Here again we see brilliant applications of true tenacity by the Disney Corporation the Nederlander Corporation and the genuinely amazing cast and crew of the show over those sixteen years.
Even the story is centered on the principal of tenacity. When young Simba’s evil uncle Scar results in the death of his beloved father Mufasa the King he, Simba at first struggles for his own survival. With the help of two hilarious friends Simba first survives due to his tenacity to live. Then when Simba reaches adulthood as a young prince he is challenged to help drive the oppressive evil from his native Pride Lands and restore their former beauty and peace. With commitment and tenacity Simba takes on his challenge, purges the evil and revives the Pride Lands.
One of the many talented cast members who eight times each week helps tell this beautiful story on stage at the Minskoff Theatre , 200 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 is the sensational James Brown-Orleans in the role of the sinister hyena Banzai. James Brown-Orleans or J Bo as his friends call him is a native of Ghana. He recalls vividly his youth in Ghana where his father, while not exactly king was nevertheless a much loved and respected college professor. For J Bo his early years were filled with vivid memories of vast beauty and joy.
Later he and his family moved to Maryland where he graduated from High Point High School and went on to study at the University of Maryland. Along the way he developed an ever growing passion for the performing arts. So as many do James Brown-Orleans left the comforts of Maryland for the wild and whacky streets of Los Angeles, California. There he forged a modest living primarily as a street performer. But James Brown-Orleans had not only talent, he had passion and tenacity. So when word came that the producers of “The Lion King” were looking for actors he auditioned. But that first audition was not fruitful for J Bo. So he auditioned again and again and again until finally with his seventh audition came the offer of the role of Banzai in the “The Lion King” on Broadway. That success he immediately and unabashedly attributes to his tenacity. James Brown-Orleans has been in the cast of “The Lion King” for more than a dozen years now.
So I can explain how it was that I happened to have the distinct pleasure of personally meeting James Brown-Orleans I must first digress briefly. Last year, 2012 I had promised to take my young daughter Kari Irwin to visit the one place on earth she most wanted to visit; New York City in general and Broadway in particular. Then on December 18th of 2012 I rudely dropped dead. No pulse, no respiration. Somehow through the assistance of wonderful physicians and nurses I came back and survived. But the medical people were telling my family that I would need to be put in a home. “Oh hell no” I Said to myself and I committed to a full and complete recovery which with a very generous dose of tenacity I have indeed achieved. However four weeks in the hospital and the follow up treatment nearly broke us. But I had made a commitment to my daughter and I would tenaciously pursue fulfilling my promise. Moreover to make up for the delay I committed to making it the best trip of her life.
So as it happens I had met a lovely and super talented young singer, dancer and actress Dawn Noel who had spent several years performing on Broadway in many of the major shows. [SEE: http://www.examiner.com/article/dawn-noel-what-success-looks-like] I asked Dawn if there was any way she might be able to get Kari a backstage look while we were in Broadway. I knew such an experience would absolutely thrill Kari. Dawn immediately agreed and soon we had instructions on how to meet up with one of her good friends James Brown-Orleans at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.
Then there we were, Kari and I at the stage door on the appointed day and at the appointed time utterly unsure of what would happen. We stayed in a small entry area until after a few minutes a door opened and out walked a man with the biggest brightest smile I had ever seen. He asked if I was Ron, I confirmed and he extended his hand introducing himself as James Brown-Orleans.
He then took us on a truly magical tour. It was no simple run through; he showed me and more importantly my young actress, singer dancer daughter Kari absolutely every element of the show. With radiance and positive energy like I had never before seen in any human being James Brown-Orleans treated Kari like a beloved friend. We couldn’t help but to love this man. He was so genuinely happy and pleasant. It became obvious to me that he was doing exactly what he had always dreamed of doing and he loved every second of it. Even after twelve years of eight shows each and every week and still he had the rich joy and dazzling energy of a man fulfilled.
When he and Kari got into a discussion about her dreams and her acting career, all while standing on stage, James Brown-Orleans said to Kari; “It’s all about tenacity. You can never ever quit. Just keep working at it and your dreams will come true.” But it wasn’t about James Brown-Orleans or even Kari Irwin; it was about the best possible human attitude. If Kari absorbed this wisdom, and I believe that she has, I can relax a little as father and just watch as her future unfolds.
James Brown-Orleans was the only “The Lion King” cast member I had the honor to meet that day, but if the rest of the cast has only half of J Bo’s positive spirit it is no wonder that “The Lion King” is the huge success that it has become. You should really consider going to New York to see this amazing show. It would be time and money well spent. And when you do that, pay close attention to Banzai. That character is played by one of the nicest human beings on earth.
In conclusion it occurred to me along the way that Kari and Dawn Noel are both in a feature film on its way to getting done early this year. The film “Unspeakable Indiscretions” is by yet another amazing man Eric Ramsey. Now I wonder if there might be a way to get James Brown-Orleans a cameo in that film? Keep reading folks because this story didn’t just end, it is just beginning.