Jelani Remy, who stars as Simba, and the dancers of The Lion King. Photo Credit: Disney Theatrical Productions/The Lion King
Earlier this month, Disney Theatrical Production’s The Lion King celebrated the 20th anniversary of its opening on Broadway. On November 13th, 1997 the musical officially opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street after a successful out of town tryout run in Minneapolis, Minnesota the previous Spring. The show has since played over 8,300 performances and is the third longest running show in Broadway history; behind only the 1996 revival of Chicago and 1988’s The Phantom Of The Opera—all three of which are still running. In 2006, the movie-turned musical moved up the street to the Minksoff Theatre where it plays today. The Lion King won six 1998 TONY® Awards including Best Musical, Best Direction Of A Musical for Julie Taymor, and one for it’s exquisite choreographer, Garth Fagan. The show is now also the highest grossing production in Broadway history, having grossed over a billion dollars.
In honor of the 20th anniversary, Dance Network was able to chat with some of the dancers and performers in the current company. Earlier this week, we spoke with ensemble dancer Rosie Lani Fiedelman, Enrique Segura who plays Ed and also understudies Zazu and Timon, and Simba himself, Jelani Remy. We asked them all about how they stay in shape for the show, their best advice for upcoming dancers with Broadway dreams, just how significant it is to them to be a part of the 20th anniversary cast.
MORE: See the trailer for the Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King
Check out our interviews below:
Rosie Lani Fiedelman. Photo Credit: RosieFiedelman.com
Dance Network: Thanks for chatting with us, Rosie! So, real quick, before we get too deep into The Lion King, we know you made your Broadway debut in the original cast of In The Heights-- can you talk a little bit about the difference for you as a dancer in doing Andy Blankenbuehler’s In The Heights choreography versus Garth Fagan's in The Lion King?
Rosie Lani Fiedelman: I think one of the biggest differences between Andy’s choreography and Garth’s is that in In The Heights, as the ensemble we played characters in a neighborhood and community. So the choreography is pedestrian but with a lot of storytelling through movement based in jazz, hip hop and Latin dance. Garth’s choreography comes from modern dance roots, African dance and ballet.
DN: You’ve said you're, "living out your dreams on the Pridelands", so, what does it mean to you to be a part of The Lion King, and to be there for the 20th anniversary of the Broadway company?
RLF: I have wanted to be in The Lion King for such a long time. It is a wonderful story that we get to tell. There is something about this show that everyone can connect to, [and to be a part of the] The 20th Anniversary of The Lion King has been an incredible experience! You know how rare it is for a Broadway show to be open as long as [this show has], and to celebrate the legacy of such an inspiring story is such an honor.
DN: You spent a good amount of time working with Jennifer Muller/The Works, can you tell us a little bit about your time there and what it meant to work with such an incredible dance company?
RLF: I danced withfor ten years. Her work is based around the idea of yin and yang, the use of breath, and eastern philosophical ideas. Jennifer’s work was so much fun so do because she created ballets that were theatrically based. You had a character and a storyline in each section, and each piece as a whole.
DN: As an experienced Broadway dancer who also teaches fitness and dance at- what advice might you have for dancers with Broadway dreams out there?
RLF: The advice I would give is to never give up. I know that sounds cheesy, but it really is about perseverance. Go back in for that audition, even if it’s the seventh time— it may just be about the timing of things. I would also say that continuing to learn, grow and challenge yourself through classes, workshops— anything in order to hone your craft. Things are constantly changing and the more tools you have in your tool box, the more ‘castable’ you are.
Enrique Segura. Photo Credit: IBDB
DN: Enrique, you’ve spent much of your career dancing, in shows like Cats, Joseph..., Beauty And The Beast, and so many more— so, how do you keep yourself in shape to perform and dance in The Lion King eight times a week?
Enrique Segura: Keeping in shape is vital— mentally and physically. The minute you let yourself get soft you open yourself to injury. Since I'm in a costume that puts me literally on ‘all fours’ going to the gym is necessary to keep limbs and core strong. Still, going to dance class is great for the body and soul to stay challenged and happy.
DN: Now that you’ve been a part of The Lion King family for a while, having performed in both the German production and on Broadway, do you still get the same excitement to do the show that you did when you first started?
ES: Yes and No. When you do your first few shows there is always that nervous energy that everyone is familiar with. But after doing a show for a long continuous run (fourteen years for me) that nervousness dissipates. The excitement of being able to do what you love and make people happy by showing them a great time is something that should never go away. That's what I get a thrill out of still. If it doesn’t, you need to find another show or another line of work.
DN: Fourteen years! Wow! That’s pretty amazing. Now, we also know that when you did The Lion King in Germany, you had to perform it in German! How difficult was it for you to initially learn it in German, and then re-learn it in English?
ES: I understudy two other roles as well as my own so it was an odd experience because your mother-tongue is English, yet you've learned this entire show in German. So it felt odd to suddenly change your hard drive to something that should just be second nature. I was so paranoid I'd break out with the German text by accident. It took some getting used to.
Jelani Remy as Simba, Michelle Obama and the Cast of The Lion King at the White House. Photo Credit: Lawrence Jackson/The White House
DN: Jelani, you’ve been a part of The Lion King for a few years now— you started, as you told playbill.com as, “the back legs of the rhinoceros”, then you were a swing, you also performed on the National Touring company, and now you’re starring on Broadway as Simba, tell us, do you still get the same excitement to do the show as you did when you first started?
Jelani Remy: Yes of course! There is an spiritual energy that this show possesses— it is electric. Also, the way I see it: someone is seeing the show for the first time, or the last time. Give them your best.
DN: How do you keep yourself in shape to perform Simba eight times a week?
JR: A dynamic and interchanging work out routine including yoga, plyometrics, strength training and exposing myself to other performance outlets!
DN: We know you do a lot of teaching and directing outside of the show, what advice do you have for aspiring Broadway dancers?
JR: If you stay ready, you never have to ‘get ready’ ::drops mic ::
(Laughing) Keep learning about everything! It’s great to be talented, but it’s important to be smart and well rounded. Also, be kind- you never know who will meet or work with again.
Finally, “no” doesn’t mean “no”; it means ‘not right now!’ Keep going!
The Lion King performs nightly at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway as well as on tour throughout the US and Canada. For more information on performances, the rest of the cast and tickets, check out www.lionking.com.