'The Lion King' opens its 20th anniversary tour in Syracuse

One of the longest-running Broadway plays, 'The Lion King' is coming to Syracuse to start a national tour that includes new choreography and orchestrations.

Editors note: This article originally appeared on Green Room Reviews on Oct. 25.

This week, Disney’s "The Lion King" will kick off a national tour in Syracuse that marks the 20th anniversary of the musical’s debut.

After opening on Broadway in November of 1997, "The Lion King" now boasts over 90 million audience members worldwide, 24 global productions (and an upcoming first-ever international tour) and the third longest Broadway run in history. "The Lion King" trails only Broadway stalwarts "Chicago" and "The Phantom of the Opera." The next closest production that is still running is "Wicked" which sits almost 3,000 performances behind "The Lion King."

“There’s a little something extra, an electricity that happens because we are all out here for each other and we’re a family.”
Nick Cordileone

This year, the tour is rolling out a newly-configured version of "The Lion King" in order to entertain even more audiences in venues that previously could not accommodate the large-scale musical.

Actor Nick Cordileone, who plays Timon and has been touring with the show since 2010, said he does not think those in the audience will be able to put their finger on what adjustments have been made. Those who have seen it before, he said, may be excited in a new way without really knowing why.

“New technology and freshened up choreography and orchestrations,” Cordileone said. “It’s just got a fun, fresh take while still being extremely recognizable.”

Cordileone came to the musical through a bit of chance. Between acting jobs in New York City, Cordileone would work as a reader for casting directors looking to cast different productions. Casting directors bring readers in so that actors who are auditioning have someone to interact with during an audition.

“It was a great way to stay creative and have fun and be a part of the arts when I was sort of ‘off duty’ as it were,” Cordileone said.

Readers typically are not up for roles in the shows for which they are reading. Cordileone was reading for a lot of non-musical auditions when he was asked to help on a round of casting for "The Lion King."

“I got to be everybody from Young Nala to Scar to Mufasa,” Cordileone said.

Eventually, the casting director for the show came to Cordileone saying that they needed to discuss whether or not Cordileone would be interested in actually being part of one of the casts of "The Lion King." Toward the end of the process, it was decided that playing Timon as part of the national tour would be a good fit and they offered him the role.

Cordileone now tours with his 15-year-old daughter, who is homeschooled by him. The tour allows for a bit of a first hand education for her, he says. She is able to see the country and the places they read about in history.

“It’s really kind of eerie how often our curriculum lines up with where we are,” Cordileone said.

Cordileone’s wife works at New York University, which allows her a bit of freedom to shape her schedule. He is a bit spoiled, Cordileone said, because she is able to visit them in almost every city. 

Cordileone’s circumstance is not entirely uncommon. He points out people in the cast cover the familial gamut: married for a long time, newlyweds, new babies and people with adult children, not to mention the children who play Young Simba and Young Nala in the show and their parents. 

Then, eventually, the tour even becomes its own family. They bond over going to movies or fright nights at the fair, Cordileone said. 

“You sort of become surrogate brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts,” Cordileone said.

This connection, for him, creates a new energy on stage that differs from what the cast of a static production may offer.

“There’s a little something extra,” Cordileone said, “an electricity that happens because we are all out here for each other and we’re a family.”

This something extra is layered on top of what is already a special show for many.

“You have a simple story with very real qualities in it,” Cordileone said. “Then you add on top of that this visual, sort of sumptuous feast of every kind of puppet you can imagine.”

The combination of Julie Taymor’s Tony award-winning vision (Best Direction and Best Costume Design for a musical), Elton John’s songs, and Lebo M breathing a South African heartbeat into the show lifts the story of "The Lion King" off the page and off the stage, Cordileone said.

While this show is known for it’s breathtaking visuals and outstanding puppet design, Cordileone’s favorite part of the show is notably simpler.

Simba is lost and trying to find himself. Rafiki comes to him and tells Simba that his father lives in him. In the movie, this moment is followed by Mufasa appearing in the clouds to remind Simba who he really is: the one true king.

“It’s a very simple, sort of low tech, artistic version of that that happens called ‘the apparition,’” Cordileone said. “It’s just beautiful. It really takes my breath away every night.”

Disney's "The Lion King" will run through Nov. 12 at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, NY. Tickets are available at the Landmark Theatre box office or online at Broadway in Syracuse.

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