On Monday February 19, 2018, in celebration of Black History Month, International House hosted many of the lead cast members of the award-winning Broadway musical, The Lion King.
The third longest running musical ever, The Lion King has been seen by over 90 million people and has been performed by 24 theater companies all over the world. The Broadway cast performs eight shows every week.
Joel Karie (Simba), Tshidi Manye (Rafiki), L. Steven Taylor (Mufasa), Nteliseng Nhkela, Lindiwe Dlamini, Bongi Duma, and Jelani Remy shared their experiences in show business, drawing on their perspectives as South Africans, African-Americans, and people of color practicing their craft in the U.S.
They also performed two of the musical’s most popular songs “The Circle of Life” and “They Live in You.”
The cast members entered Davis Hall singing “The Circle of Life” to the sounds of cheers of pleasure from the audience. Some heard the song live for the first time; others had never heard the song, live or recorded.
Jelani Remy, who plays Simba, said the The Lion King is so popular because everyone can relate to the characters and the story, and because the musical has so much heart.
The Lion King, unlike many other Broadway productions, is all about the story, not the glitz and glamour of Broadway. Nteliseng Nkhela attributed its popularity to its theme of loss, which everyone experiences on some level.
The cast commented that there are no walls of color or culture when a story is told through animals. Anyone, no matter their background or culture, can see themselves in these characters, they said.
The musical includes native African languages found in and around South Africa, one of its many attractions. South African cast members can sing in their own language and share their culture. For African American cast members show gives them the chance learn a new language and feel connected to a part of their heritage in Africa.
Joel Karie spoke of feeling a real sense of pride in his African culture when singing in these languages. Tshidi Manye, who plays Rafiki, spoke of how the clicks heard in one of the South African dialects helps to make the show unique.
Cast members shared funny stories. One time L. Steven Taylor (Mufasa) was left lying on the stage after this death scene, no knowing what was going on. The show stopped completely because the actor playing Simba had to use the restroom.
Nteliseng Nkhela spoke about how some of the challenges of this occupation: missing home and family; skipping birthdays because they get only two weeks off during the year; and even the struggle of maintaining relationships and dating.
Cast members were asked at what point during the show they felt most alive: Tshidi Manya said when she is signing “The Circle of Life” and she looks out to the audience to see children pointing at the various animals and the joy it brings them, and how she is touched when she sees grown men in the audience crying.
Lindiwi Dlamini said a special part of the show was the performance of “Shadow Land,” the one time during the musical when only women sing.
Cast members also spoke of the shared values of The Lion King and International House, both of which celebrate diversity and encourage the sharing of cultures. Both also encourage everyone to feel pride in their heritage and not be afraid to be themselves.
The evening concluded with four International House students joining the cast members on stage to sing “He Lived in You” together.
Residents who attended shared their love of The Lion King movie and what it meant to them as children growing up in different places across the world. All were drawn to the I-House event, as one movie connected a huge range of people from a range of places and cultures.
Anca Agachi from Romania, said it “the movie marked my childhood to an obsessive degree.” Nitin Magima called himself a “Disney child” and loved anything associated with Disney. “I just love The Lion King,” said Somya Singhal.
Others talked of growing up listening to the soundtrack. Hearing those songs again, they said,brought back nostalgia for their homes and families.
For some, an interest in theater drew them to the event as they looked forward to meeting real Broadway stars. Others were simply excited to meet the cast of one of their favorite musicals. For example, Stefin Woolever, who has background in theatre, wanted to learn more about the Lion King as a great Broadway show.
Yet others wanted to experience and support I-Houses’ Black History Month. Haneya Hasan said she wanted to learn about the story of the Lion King and its links to African culture.