Kids' taunts turn into treasure

'Lion King' actor says subtle movements evoke the raw animalistic power of his character.

May 21, 2010|By Candice Baker

When Dionne Randolph was a child, being the only kid on the playground with a deep, deep voice guaranteed him taunts and grief.

But that former hardship has become one of his greatest assets as an adult.

Now a professional actor, Randolph will appear as the leonine Mufasa in the touring national production of "The Lion King," when it arrives at the Orange County Performing Arts Center next week.

"My voice dropped so early; I remember in elementary school I was made fun of for it. Now it's paying off," Randolph said.


Although it's based on the Disney animated film, this "Lion King" musical is full of symbolism and meaning, Randolph said. Created by the legendary director and visionary, Julie Taymor, it's been a Broadway powerhouse since its 1997 premiere.

"A group from my local gym just came to see the show. They said, 'We had no idea the show was like this.' The African influence is much more prevalent, primarily South African. The show is more of a representation of the movie. You have to use your imagination," Randolph said.

"After all these years, this is still the most unique play out there. [Taymor] wants the audience to know that they are mentally involved in what they are going to see. When the sun rises at the beginning, you see that it's actually hundreds of metallic strips. You immediately know that this is something different. Everything is a representation, rather than realistic."

The flight of fancy extends to the characters, who are exclusively animal. Rather than the exclusive use of puppetry or Cowardly Lion-style costumes, the show's designers opted for masks and other symbolic ensembles.

Randolph's character, Mufasa, is the stately and commanding king of the animals. In his role, Randolph must bring humanity into the character while hinting at the untamed ferocity of the animal.

"The costume itself already dictates about 60% of the animal, so the subtle movement of the actor is what brings it over the top," Randolph said, adding that the actors are trained in Balinese movements to develop grace.

"Subtle, random movements create that dual human/animal thing," he said.

Randolph's association with the story of a lion cub who "just can't wait to be king" is more than a decade long, but his start in college was in musical flora rather than fauna.

"The first acting role I ever did was 'Little Shop of Horrors,' when I was maybe 19 or 20," Randolph said. He played Audrey II, the man-eating plant with the booming bass.

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