“The Lion King,” the Broadway musical based on the animated film, is nearing a two decades run in New York City. Whether it’s the performances, music, costumes, lighting or interactive segments of the show with the crowd, audiences are caught up in a once in a lifetime mesmerizing theatrical experience. EUR sat down recently with Jelani Remy (Simba) and Chantel Riley (Nala) who explained the show’s endless appeal.
Explain the show’s longevity and why it resonates so well with audiences?
JELANI REMY: God is good! [Laughs].
CHANTEL RILEY: We’re blessed.
JR: The show has such soul and heart that everybody can find something to relate to in it whether it be the costumes, the lights, this beautiful creature here [he looks at Riley], the music, the orchestra. There’s something for everyone in the show young, and old. And as the show gets older and odder, the heart still remains the same. You find people to infuse new energy and new life and continue to tell the legacy that is this wonderful story.
CH: Yes, it’s very relatable. I think every character in this story can relate with anyone in the audience, whether you’re an uncle Scar, and you’re just mean and or Simba who is just trying to find his way and know who he is. I think that everyone has been every character at some point in his or her life. So that’s why it’s been able to run for almost 20 years now. We turn 20 next year, which is huge, we just beat “Cats” and now we’re the third longest running show on Broadway.
What would you say is the greatest lesson you have learned from playing your character?
JR: Stay true and be open be honesty. Honesty is a very hard thing to do. And stillness as well because you’re enough, and it’s the hardest thing to compute in an actor’s mind, just being, trusting and believing.
CR: To be very bold, courageous, and very confident. She knows who she is and those are all the things I never had when I grew up. And this not to say I didn’t have a great upbringing but it was just something that I knew I needed to find in myself. Being able to study Nala her and spend time with her I found that over the past five years my confidence level has grown. It’s definitely a life lesson I will take with me forever and everywhere I go.
What other aspirations do you have?
JR: I just want to continue to create. I love direction and I love choreography as well. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to do cabarets and my own little projects. I would love to do some producing eventually in film and TV. Disney is an impressive family. These people have seen me grow up and it’s such a joy to be able to come to work and see the amazing people and to know that if there’s anything I need, there’s someone to call. So that’s really important.
CH: There’s a lot of opportunities within the Disney family. I mean, ABC is Disney as well. So not only do we have ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Lion King,’ but we have shows like ‘Scandal’ and ‘How to Get Away With Murder,’ which is putting people of color on TV screens as well; a lot more than other TV outlets, which is really great. It’s such a a blessing and an honor to be a part of the Disney family and to know that there are opportunities for people like us. Disney is just always giving, which is always great.
Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected].