Last performed in Singapore in 2011 to an audience of 300,000 over the span of eight months, The Lion King returns in a production by Michael Cassel Group in association with Disney Theatrical Productions. We talk to the cast and creatives of The Lion King as they spill trivia about the production that has been watched by more than 90 million people around the world.
1. The actor who plays Zazu has also played Ed the Hyena
Australian actor André Jewson who plays Zazu also played Ed in the Australian tour and understudied Zazu and Scar during its run. "Zazu was the character I auditioned for when I first went in for the auditions in 2013," said Jewson. "It's the character that's been with me for the longest time so it's really exciting. It's fantastic to have the opportunity to put my own standpoint on it and have it be my own. It feels satisfying."
2. The head of the puppet department is from Singapore
The current head of the puppet department made a stormtrooper suit when he was younger. Tim Lucas' interest in costume design eventually landed him a job in The Lion King when it arrived in Singapore in 2011. But the uncommon profession was hard to come by. Lucas had to search all around the world and eventually learned and practised, turning a hobby into a job. "I hope what we do here becomes a norm in Singapore," said Lucas. "We have people with skills in Singapore but they just don't have the facilities to work with."
3. Nala's actually Little Miss Softie
"She wants to be coddled and hugged. But she always realises that there's no time for it," said South African actress Noxolo Dlamini, who plays Nala, Simba's friend-turned-lover in the musical. "She has to take on a challenge obviously a person her age wouldn't normally take on. I think Nala is actually pretty soft but you don't see much of it because of the journey she is on in the show at that time," she commented.
4. Jonathan Andrew Hume's mother predicted that he would play Simba one day
During his younger days, Jonathan Andrew Hume would listen and dance to Michael Jackson records and make holes in the living room's carpet because he was turning so much. The Brit's parents enrolled him into theatre school to release all that energy. The family watched The Lion King together when it premiered in London in 1999, and it was then that his mother pointed at Simba mid-show to tell her son that that could be him one day. "It's funny how my mum predicted that and put that out into the universe, because here I am," Hume shared.
5. Antony Lawrence was taking out the trash when he received the call for the part of Scar
When Antony Lawrence auditioned for the role and saw Scar's mask, the British actor thought to himself, "I've not been cast yet but I never want to take this off. You're not getting this back now." Good news followed and he received the call for the part just as he was taking the rubbish out. "I had to pause on the stairs when I had the phone call," Lawrence recalled, "and I think the rubbish stayed on the stairs for probably an hour."
6. Rafiki is played by a female in the musical adaptation
Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor felt that the original story lacked the presence of a strong female, so Rafiki was changed into a female mandrill. The baboon who serves as Mufasa's shaman and advisor in the story sings in the opening number, 'Circle of Life', and is memorable in many of the musical's iconic moments. Ntsepa Pitjeng returns to the role after playing in Las Vegas, London, China and Brazil.
7. Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile wanted to play Mufasa so he could stand on top of the rock in 'Circle of Life'
Khanyile was part of the ensemble and understudied Mufasa in the London production. He played a wildebeest that stood in the back during the opening number and would always look up towards Mufasa and think, "One day I'm going to stand up there". "Just being on top of that rock and celebrating with one of the best songs ever, 'Circle of Lie' is honestly the moment for me," said Khanyile. "I honestly can't believe I get to do that eight times a week."
8. The cast watches nature documentaries on repeat for research
When the cast were rehearsing in Manila, there were videos playing on loop along the corridor, showing lions and hyenas. Lawrence, who plays Scar in the production, described the research that helped his delivery. "(Scar) is quite a malnourished lion so I found videos where you can see the bones and the shoulders moving," explained Lawrence. "I do this cross along in front of the stage when the mask is down. It really helps with physicality."
9. You can spot a hint of Balinese dance
"They cast really non-traditional musical theatre dancers. The dancers that you see on stage have a really strong ballet background and strong modern background," said Teresa Nguyen, the resident dance supervisor. The choreography by Garth Fagan combined a variety of Ballet, Jazz, Modern Dance, African Dance and Balinese Dance to tell the story. With 19 nationalities on set, the ensemble shared a language of movements, even if some of the dancers don't speak English.
10. Timon's puppet was inspired by Japanese Bunraku puppetry
"The puppet is working as the character just as much (the cast) are," said Jewson, who plays Zazu. The puppets in The Lion King come in a variety with Zazu as a classical hand puppet, while Timon is completely based on the Japanese bunraku puppet. Bunraku, also known as Ningyō jōruri, is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre that was founded in Osaka in the beginning of 17th century. Other variations include rod puppets, shadow puppets and full-body puppets — there are over 200 puppets used in the production.