When Disney’s animated film “The Lion King” first appeared in 1994, its story was quickly compared to “Hamlet.” Indeed, it tells of the young prince (albeit a lion, not a Dane) who is made to feel guilty about the violent death of his father, the King – all devised by the villainous, usurping uncle. But with its wonderful music by Elton John and Tim Rice, it didn’t take long for people to compare it to a Broadway show. By 1997, the stage version directed by Julie Taymor was already being previewed in Minneapolis. And the following year, the show won six Tony® Awards: Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical.
The spectacular national tour, resplendent with the costumes, masks and puppets devised by Ms. Taymor, is now at the the Detroit Opera House, courtesy of Broadway in Detroit. We saw the show in New York years ago, and we are delighted to report that this production holds the same magic. This show is pure spectacle, and the brilliant ensemble brings our favorite animated characters to life on stage in a way that is irresistible. The circle of life embraces us all, and the simple message still resonates with audiences of all ages.
The show is, of course, geared for children, and we saw many at the show last night. But we also saw young couples revisiting the magic they grew up with, and older couples enchanted by a big show with all the bells, whistles and soaring tunes.
Michigan fans will be tickled to know that one of our own, John Sloan III, is a member of the ensemble for this tour of “The Lion King,” and he was nice enough to give us the inside scoop.
Q: Were you a fan of the Disney film, “The Lion King?” What does it feel like to be part of that story?
John Sloan: The Lion King was actually one of the first, if not the only movie I ever stood in line for on opening day. And, funny enough was the first CD I ever owned. I used to stand in my room and conduct the music in my bedroom as a child, so when I got this gig it was a somewhat remarkable circle. It feels amazing to be a part of a production that has touched so many lives across the world. It's a story with which we can all identify.
Q: Do you enjoy being part of a national tour?
John Sloan: I love touring. It took me a moment to get used to the constant travel, and it can be hard during the holidays, but the cast comes together and it makes us a stronger company. Having the opportunity to share our art with communities across the nation is such a rewarding experience.
Q: How does it feel to come home as part of a National Tour? Do you still have friends/family in the area who will come to see you perform?
John Sloan: I have plenty of friends and family in the Detroit area and it feels amazing to be home again. I grew up dreaming of performing on every stage imaginable, whether in New York or LA, but the one city I've always wanted to perform was here at home. Playing the [Detroit]Opera House …there's nothing like it.
Q: What do you look forward to about being back in Michigan?
John Sloan: Well, outside of my mother's cooking, I'm looking forward to being able to give back to the community. A few years ago I started an organization called The Helping Hands Campaign. Our goal has been to unite artists behind the effort to support the very communities that make our art possible. We have raised money, taught classes, held food drives in cities across the country – and to have the chance to give back to my hometown means so much to me. We're planning master classes and fundraising events for the students at the Detroit School for Arts, you can get more info at www.helpinghandscampaign.org
Q: “The Lion King” is famous for its puppet-like costumes. What’s your favorite role, and how will we know to spot you in the cast? Did you have to learn to work your costumes?
John Sloan: The costumes are amazing, and I have ten consume changes. (Not really that much compared to other cast members who have 16). And, it definitely took me a moment to learn how to master some of the puppets. My favorite role in the show is actually not one anyone would know was me. During the first act I operate a shadow puppet of Young Simba as he follows his uncle Scar. This just a short vignette that takes place before the stampede, but it gives me the opportunity to take an inanimate object – just metal, plastic, and wood – and bring it to life. Give it thought and intention. For an actor few things could be better.
Q. Tell us about your theatre training. Do you have any advice for young thespians who want to be where you are now?
John Sloan: Well, my training actually began at the age of 3. My mother is a music teacher and she began training and exposing me to the arts at a very young age. I also performed with the Lathrup Youth Theatre in Southfield, and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. After high school I studied musical theatre at the University of Michigan, and I am a Wolverine through and through. This isn't an easy path, I would just say that there are two things I consider most important. 1) Train as much as possible. Study different areas and disciplines, even if you don't think it's what you want to do – education is always key; the more you know about all aspects of the industry the better. 2) And this is most important – know yourself. This business is a lot about other people projecting on to you what they want you to do or who they want you to be. If you're not confident in who you are it can take a toll. But if you truly know yourself, then no amount of rejection or projection can beat you. This industry is about a lot of things, but one thing successful artists can always rely on is their art – and that comes from who they truly are as a person.
You can see John and the amazing spectacle that is “The Lion King” at the beautiful Detroit Opera House, running through March 10, 2013. As part of his Helping Hands community outreach, John and cast members from "The Lion King" will conduct a Young Artists Workshop on Monday, February 17 and will participate in a concert for the Detroit School of Arts on Monday, February 25. You can learn more here.
Show times for "The Lion King" vary, but there are regular matinee and evening performances; see the ticket sellers’ websites for more information: the Fisher Theatre box office, the Detroit Opera House box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-866-870-2717, and online at www.lionking.com or the Broadway in Detroit website
There will be a special Kids’ Night performance of “The Lion King” on Wednesday, February 20 at 7:30 p.m. The pre-show activities, sponsored by Michigan Education Savings Plan (MESP), will begin at 6 p.m. in the Detroit Opera House lobby,where kids will have the opportunity to make lion masks courtesy of Arts and Scraps, and much more.
For Kids’ Night, tickets for those 18 and under are half price with the purchase of an adult ticket at full price. Kids’ Night tickets for are not available online or by phone, but are available at the Detroit Opera House and Fisher Theatre Box Offices as well as Ticketmaster Ticket Centers at Partridge Creek, 12 Oaks Mall, Great Lakes Crossing, and Fairlane Town Center. Mention code KNOB or ask for the “Kids’Night” offer.