I can’t wait to be king | Performance | Weekly style
When it comes to Broadway musicals, it doesn’t get bigger than “The Lion King.” By one estimate, the theatrical adaptation of the Disney classic has grossed more than $8.2 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing title in box office history for stage and film works.
It is also the third longest running show in Broadway history, with over 9,000 performances and still running. Like the movie it’s based on, this “Lion King” tells the story of a young lion who must battle his evil uncle and take his rightful place as king of the jungle. Telling the same story with inventive and elaborate costumes, puppets, sets and choreography, director Julie Taymor played to some of the unique strengths of musical theatre.
Next week, the touring Broadway production will roar into Richmond for 15 performances. Along for the ride is Nick Cordileone, an actor who has spent the past 12 years — minus part of the pandemic — portraying Timon on the touring show.
Cordileone came to portray the wisecracking meerkat after spending months working as a reader for “Lion King” auditions, playing opposing actors auditioning for roles. Eventually, the big wigs at Lion King Inc. asked if Cordileone would be interested in auditioning for the show.
“On the last day of the auditions, Julie Taymor was there and said, ‘Would you like to go on tour? ‘” recalls Cordileone, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and grew up between San Diego, Minneapolis and Arizona.
Still, there was the issue of puppet learning. For those who haven’t seen the stage version of “The Lion King,” the elaborate puppets often show their operators acting alongside them. The puppeteers aim to create a “double event”, which means that it appears that the puppet and the puppeteer are telling a story in tandem.
“It’s a complicated puppet. It’s beautifully articulated and painted, and its mechanics are intriguing and interesting,” Cordileone says of Timon’s portrait. “The closer you get [mastering] it, the more it looks like it’s an organic thing. He never looks lifeless in front of you. It has its own kind of internal energy.
Even after more than a decade of touring with the show, Cordileone says he still can’t get enough of it.
“Every night it’s still fresh,” he says. “When ‘Circle of Life’ starts, I always get [misty-eyed]and I would always like to be in that number.
On the contrary, Cordileone says that spending so much time with the series made certain elements affect him more deeply, especially as a father.
“There are parental lines in there that hit you very differently,” he says. “A lot of the talk about your ancestors living inside you, looking down on you and being proud of you, a lot of that stuff really resonates with me, and resonates louder the longer you’re at it.”
Cordileone says some of her favorite shows are sensory performances designed for people with disabilities.
“Being able to play for a room of people that there’s no idea how you’re supposed to react to, just come and enjoy the show, it’s really life changing,” he says.
When asked how he would convince someone who hasn’t seen the show to come to the Altria, Cordileone says it’s the same story and the same songs everyone knows and loves, but brought to a “richer and fuller life” thanks to the work of the creator, the team and the performers.
“It’s hard to oversell it,” says Cordileone. “You just say, ‘Come experience it, and let’s talk about it afterwards, because I guarantee you’ll have as big of a smile as I do.'”
Disney’s “The Lion King” plays March 9-20 at the Altria Theater, 6 North Laurel St., 23220. For more information, visit altriatheater.com or call (800) 514-ETIX (3849).