Unlike many Americans, I didn’t grow up on Disney films. Sure, I owned Pocahontas, The Lion King and Aladdin on VHS, but I can’t quote an entire movie and I certainly don’t know every song. It wasn’t until I visited Disney World with Princeton High School Symphonic Band that I began to understand the magic behind the world of Disney.
Disney shaped the childhood memories of many and continues to make memories eight times a week on Broadway through The Lion King and Aladdin.
Not only do the shows have large ensembles of, arguably, the most spirited people on Broadway prone to break out in song in an otherwise lifeless layover in La Guardia, but each cast boasts a large representation of men and women of color.
I’m still replaying Viola Davis’ Emmy acceptance speech and the Tony and Emmy-Award Winning actress could not be more spot on with her remark that Black women can’t win awards if there is no opportunity for them. It’s no secret that Broadway continues to struggle with diversity on the stage and with its patrons. Mega-hit Hamilton is changing the game by not only bringing a show to the stage that features a hip hop influence, but highlighting the talent of people of color by blindly casting some of America’s greatest historical figures.
But to me, the question is still how do we make theatre more accessible? How do we bring in a diverse crowd? How do we cultivate a love and passion for the stage at a young age?
A lot of this starts by seeing people of color in complex, sincere, challenging, leading roles. Creating opportunity. Writing a new reality.
The Lion King recently made history by surpassing Phantom of the Opera as the highest- grossing Broadway show of all time. Phantom producer Cameron MacKintosh credits Tony Award-Winning director, Julie Taymor, and her vision for “bringing in elements of Asian and African theater, music and performance” as one of the many factors in its success.
Here’s to writers, producers, and directors reaching through “green fields and lovely flowers” and giving opportunity to these talented men and women.
Special shout out to the incredible men and women of color in these productions!
The Lion King: L. Steven Taylor (Mufasa), Gugwana Dlamini (Rafiki), Jelani Remy (Simba), Chantel Riley (Nala), James Brown-Orleans (Banzai), Bonita J. Hamilton (Shenzi), K’Lynn Jackman (Young Nala), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala), Nathaniel Logan McIntyre (Young Simba), Jahi Diallo Winston(Young Simba), Lawrence Keith Alexander (Ensemble), LaMar Baylor (Ensemble), Allison Blackwell (Ensemble) India Bolds (Ensemble), Elishah Bowman (Ensemble), Derrick Davis (Ensemble), Lindiwe Dlamini (Ensemble), Bongi Duma (Ensemble), Angelica Edwards (Ensemble), Jamal Lee Harris (Ensemble), Kenny Ingram (Ensemble), Andre Jackson (Ensemble), Lindsey Jolyn Jackson (Ensemble), Joel Karie (Ensemble), Lisa Lewis (Ensemble), Mduduzi Madela (Ensemble), Kimberly Marable (Ensemble), Jaysin McCollum (Ensemble), Ray Mercer (Ensemble), Kyle Lamar Mitchell (Swing), S’bu Ngema (Ensemble), Nhlanhla Ngobeni (Ensemble), James A. Pierce III (Swing), Chondra La-Tease Profit (Sarabi/ Ensemble), Jacqueline Rene (Swing), Thandazile A. Soni Donna Michelle Vaughn (Ensemble), Kellen Stancil (Swing Dance Captain), Sophia Stephens (Ensemble/ Understudy Rafiki, Sarabi, and Nala), Bravita Threatt (Swing/ Dance Captain), Natalie Turner (Swing), and Donna Michelle Vaughn (Ensemble).
The Lion King is directed by Julie Taymor and choreographed by Garth Fagan. It is on stage at the Minskoff Theater. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
Aladdin: James Monroe Iglehart (Genie), Clifton Davis (Sultan), Trevor Dion Nicholas (Standby Genie/Babkak/Sultan), Tia Altinay (Attendant, Ensemble), Donald Jones, Jr. (Henchman, Ensemble), Amber Owens (Ensemble), Khori Michelle Petinaud (Attendant, Ensemble), Ariel Reid (Ensemble), and Jaz Sealy (Prince Abdullah, Ensemble).
Aladdin is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-Winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten!) and is on stage at the New Amsterdam Theater. Tickets can be purchased HERE.