Jewish director/designer Julie Taymor's signature piece, "The Lion Kin,,," takes the stage in Detroit.
"The live of Life" rom "The Lion King" national tour
Special to the Jewish News
he seeds of The Lion King, one of the most
popular musical shows to sweep across the
worldwide theater scene in recent years,
may have been planted in the back yard of
a Reform Jewish home in Newton, Mass., where 7-
year-old Julie Taymor developed plays and skits with
After performing with the Boston Children's Theater,
she learned about the Asian theater while traveling to
India and Sri Lanka as part of an educational program.
At age 16, she convinced her parents to let her study
mime in Paris. At Oberlin College in Ohio, her inde-
pendent major was in mythology and folklore. In her
20s, a fellowship took her to Indonesia, Japan and Bali,
where she founded an Indonesian theater group and sur-
vived a series of mishaps that almost ended her career.
Perhaps only someone with that kind of a back-
ground could become the brilliant director-designer
who created The Lion King, using ingenious theater
techniques to assemble an amazing spectacle of animals
brought to life on stage.
Currently in its seventh sold-out year on
Broadway, the show won six Tony Awards and many
other honors, and Taymor, 51, became the first
woman in Broadway history to win the Tony for
Best Director of a Musical.
The Lion King opens Friday, April 2, at Detroit's
Masonic Temple Theatre, where it runs through May
30. Box office officials say advance sales are the largest
they've experienced in the last 10 years.
On the 15th city of a national tour that began two
years ago and one of eight Lion King companies per-
forming worldwide, the total troupe of 109 — includ-
ing 45 actors — has finally rolled into Detroit, on 19
trucks, for its two-month run.
Being involved with The Lion King is a demanding
msk, mainly because Taymor, now highly respected in
international theater circles, is at the helm.
Just ask Jewish actor Ben Lipitz, who plays Pumbaa,
young lion king Simba's warthog friend, as he lugs a
42-pound, 9-foot-long puppet costume on his back to
provide the comic relief in the show.
"Julie Taymor is a brilliant, consummate professional
with enormous creativity," he says.
Or, ask Jewish company manager Alan Kosher, whose
administrative skills have helped overcome blackouts,
forest fires and floods during the show's tour.
"Julie Taymor has a vision — and she goes for
it," he says. "She takes advantage of all the new
theater technology, and she knows exactly what
she wants to do on stage.
"The Lion King is the biggest show on the road
today, and the Disney organization has a commitment
to excellence that reflects in the great care taken to
make sure this show lives up to its standards.
"We file a report to Julie after every performance,
and if something catches her eye, we hear about it
fast. Members of her staff are likely to drop in on us
at any time."
Other cast members in the Detroit road show
include Dan Donohue as the evil Scar; Thomas Corey
Robinson as the elderly lion king Mufasa; South
African performer Futhi Mhlongo as the wise Rafiki;
John Plumpis as the meerkat Timon; Mark Cameron
Pow as Zazu; Alan Mingo Jr. as Simba; and Lisa Nicole
Wilkerson as the lioness Nala.
"What I love about The Lion King," Taymor has
said, "is that it's a show with a predominantly non-
white cast that isn't about race; on the other hand, it's
all about race, and that should be acknowledged.
"We have a person representing the king on that
mountain wearing African-inspired clothes. White peo-
ple may say race doesn't matter but, to black people,
race matters, totally.
"Some have told me, 'It's the first time my son has
seen a black person representing a king on a stage
— in a position of power.' America is up on stage,
and, I hope, the future of America where race is
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