Everyone knows the Disney classic of The Lion King. Since its theatrical release in 1994, the animated film has been adapted for the stage in an award-winning Broadway production, as well as a reimagined 2019 live-action film. But the story details remain the same: a young lion named Simba is the heir of his father, Mufasa. Simba falls under the wicked plot of his uncle Scar to undercut his throne. After Mufasa’s death, Simba runs away from his home in shame, vowing never to return. He returns as an adult to take back his homeland from Scar with the help of his friends Timon and Pumbaa.
It’s the story that’s been taught to children of all ages for decades, and now, it’s being told in a whole new way thanks to Disneyland’s latest production of Tale of The Lion King. In a unique new staging with story-theatre adaptation as key, the cast tells the story through voice, costume, music and dance. Unlike the typical version of having the cast transform into animated characters or puppets, this new method of storytelling brings the classic to life in a way unlike ever before.
The most impressive feature of Tale of The Lion King is the all-new choreography from veterans Kevin and Marcel Wilson, also known as The Wilson Brothers. They brought their versatile trained dance background mixed with their experience working with pop artists like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson to merge traditional African dance genres with hip-hop and street styles, along with other traditional dance genres that will surely have audience members dancing along throughout the production.
Shadow and Act had the opportunity to attend an exclusive in-person preview of Tale of The Lion King as part of Disneyland’s #CelebrateSoulfully series kickoff to June's Black Music Month. The new series is dedicated to bringing cultural experiences to life in an expansion of their diversity and inclusion efforts throughout their theme parks for guests of color. Tale of The Lion King is a perfect addition.
We spoke with The Wilson Brothers about their experience choreographing the show. Tale of The Lion King is now live at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA with four live shows a day Thursday through Monday.
S&A: You guys spoke a lot about the genres that you incorporated into the production. Obviously, there are elements of hip-hop, African, step, and so on. But as someone who is a trained dancer, I saw a little bit of jazz, modern, and even liturgical. At certain points, I felt there was a bit of spiritual awakening audience members could experience from their seats just through the choreography. Could elaborate a little bit more on all of the genres that you incorporated and how you felt that it contributed to the story in this way?
MW: Kevin and I come from such a versatile background in dance and we love all different styles of dance. So we definitely wanted to incorporate that in Tale of The Lion King. And like you said, we had the hip-hop, the jazz, the contemporary, all of these styles of dance helping to further the story as people watch the show.
KW: And from one dancer to another, the fact that you understood and saw the jazz dance can be it’s influenced by so many different things with this specifically because of the musicality, because of our training. We even incorporate tap dance. You didn’t see necessarily tap in there with actual tap shoes per se, but what we use is the benefit of tap dance was the musicality, the rhythm, and the timing that was offered.
How did you guys go about keeping the classic elements of ‘The Lion King’ with modernizing it through the use of choreography?
MW: We tried to, in the beginning, we really tried to make it celebratory and rejoicing. So that’s why wanted to bring in a lot of the West African-type style choreography. But then, it was really great from choreographing songs like “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” and really bringing forth joyous dancing like stepping and krumping and telling the story within the song and dance.
KW: With some of the darker songs throughout the story where you have the good lions and animals versus the bad, we were really inspired by the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story. We wanted to keep the show intimate and not just so high in production, we were able to workshop a lot of the choreography and say, ‘That’s too big.’ But we also had to move through the story with choreography and all the different styles while translating. So for people that don’t dance, you’re one of the lucky ones that do, but those that don’t dance are still inspired by the music.
For viewers who don't really realize that dance is a form of athleticism and that it's really a true skill, can you speak a little bit about what you tell your cast, how you train them to go about maintaining their body so that they really can have the stamina to perform at such a high level? The dancing in this production is so big and it does move so much.
MW: The great thing is that our cast, they love the show, so they want to be out there performing hard. So we have to be like, ‘You know what, y’all can mark this time out and not dance as hard,’ because but they love it. So we just tell them to eat healthily, keep working out, and build up that endurance. But I think their passion and love definitely are evident in the show.
KW: I think it’s important to recognize that we have a lot of people on standby as fill-ins when necessary. So hopefully they’ll have moments that can swing them out of the show. But we also don’t want to come from a place where we record after the show to simplify it so that it could be easy on them. We want to make sure that the show, the audience plus the dancers about everything they deserve from doing the show.