The Circle of Life: Culmination of a Dream for Actor Tony Freeman



Deenvan Meer

 

"Disney’s The Lion King,” coming to the Aronoff Center January 8 through February 2, has been hailed as one of the most compelling Broadway musicals of its time. For Cincinnati native Tony Freeman, who plays Scar, Zazu, Timon, and Pumbaa, The Lion King marked his Broadway debut. Since then, he has been involved in the show for most of the last 19 years, playing multiple roles during that period and returning to grace the Aronoff stage this January. For Freeman, the chance to join the cast of the award-winning show was the culmination of a dream.

“I knew nothing about the show when I first saw the movie in 1994, but I immediately fell in love with it. I was intrigued when I heard that Disney had hired Julie Taymor to direct because I was already a fan of her work Off Broadway. I saw the show when it first opened on Broadway and absolutely loved it. The stagecraft and puppetry was simply amazing and creative beyond my wildest dreams.”

In an interview with Freeman, he said that growing up in Milford, Ohio, the thought of being in a show on Broadway in New York City seemed remote, maybe even impossible to achieve.

“I didn’t think it was a realistic goal for me to have. But I knew I loved performing and decided to just keep performing until it wasn’t fun anymore or wasn’t worth the sacrifices one has to make to have a career in the theatre,” says Freeman.

The moving story of the circle of life is conveyed by the music of Tony Award-winning artists Elton John and Tim Rice, featuring familiar songs that audiences have grown to love. Director Julie Taymor has infused new life into the beloved story by adding authentic African music to her adaptation, much of it by Lebo M.  She took a risk in introducing new music to such a beloved classic. She also insisted on casting some performers from Africa to ensure the singing was authentic. Her risk paid off, as the music has been warmly received and celebrated by theater attendees.

The team was faced with the challenge of equipping human actors to represent animals on stage and capturing the big-screen movie experience and translating it into a theater experience of a different scale. The production is a marvel – equal parts stunning artistry and creative engineering. “Hum-animals” are the result of a merging of human actors and classic puppetry. These larger-than-life characters bring the spectacular story to life in breathtaking fashion, filling every inch of the stage with their dynamic presence.

Freeman takes pride in being a part of a story that so deeply resonates with such a large audience, transcending age, gender, religion and race. The story is a timeless message of hope – one that reminds theatergoers that regardless of their circumstances, ultimately, good triumphs evil.

“I love the profound way it moves people. It’s the only show I’ve ever done where I can see people wiping tears out of their eyes within minutes of the show starting. It’s a show I can bring both my daughter and grandmother to and know they will both love it! I’m surprised that after 22 years, the show can still elicit such a profound response from audiences. People that saw the musical as kids are now bringing their own kids to see the show. It brings them joy to share such a cherished experience with the next generation,” Freeman says.

"Disney’s The Lion King” will be playing at the Aronoff Center, January 8 through February 2, 2020. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased at CincinnatiArts.org. For more information on Broadway in Cincinnati, visit BroadwayInCincinnati.com.