by Eliza Leung
Photo credit: Jonathan Vista
Asian audiences can be hesitant to express their enthusiasm. What are your thoughts?
We know we’re getting a reaction, even if people don’t stand, whoop or cry. Our job to is to give the best performance every night. And we know the audience is responding, especially when they come up to us after the show and tell us how much they loved the performance.
Live performance is grueling. How do you stay fresh for every performance?
It has to be a brand new show every day. Never stop learning until you’re done. We give eight shows a week and we’re not here to do it on autopilot. Once your heart is not there, it’s time to go. People are coming to see the show for the first, second or third time. And it’s our job to tell this amazing story by Julie Taymor the best we can, night after night.
John Stefaniuk who works on The Lion King around the globe brought in an Indonesian Balinese expert because Julie had spent several years in Indonesia and was very influenced by this traditional dance. I didn’t realize how hard it was to do. It takes a lot of precision and concentration. In The Lion King show, we can’t let our performance slide because we have to make the Balinese steps authentic for an Asian audience who understands what they should be like. This element of discipline has been very good for my dancing.
So people are surprised when they find I don’t go to the gym. The show is actually a workout itself. At 6:30pm every night, I have a physical warm-up and then a voice-up. I watch what I eat. And the show is so physical that I burn everything off. And I don’t eat anything “stodgy” (anything heavy and fattening) before a performance.
What would you say to someone thinking about a career in the Arts?
I’d encourage anybody to enter into an artistic profession. You can be successful in the Arts. I’m not saying don’t go into other fields. But the same effort and concentration that goes into law or medicine is needed in the acting or singing.
The Arts is not an easy career. In fact it requires the same or even more discipline. Ten to eleven years ago I was a member of the ensemble (chorus) in London and now I’m Simba in Singapore. This show is now in cities all over the globe in Spain, London, Germany, Broadway, Japan and an American Tour. Nowdays, barriers are falling and color-blind roles are giving actors more opportunities to demonstrate what their talent is inside.
Performance really makes me feel good. I have so much to give from my heart. It’s great to have that outlet for expression. This is what I was trained to do. To use my voice, my emotions, and to express what’s inside me. I get such great joy from doing it. I love to see that same joy from people in the audience who are laughing and crying. It’s really an adrenalin rush.
What surprised you most about this production?
This is the most international cast of all the LK productions. We have different accents from all the world: New Zealand, the Philippines and South Africa. The show opens with this absolutely guttural voice. Jean-Luc Guizonne who plays my father Mufasa has a strong, heavy French accent. And then I come in and with this British voice.
Rehearsals before the production starts are normally 6 weeks long. And it was decided to add on an extra two weeks. And we had to learn to work together, to understand each other, emphasize certain words and speak more clearly, and learn to meld our accents together so that the audience would understand us.
What’s interesting is we’ve brought all of this to a Singaporean audience.
You’ve played some evil characters before. What's the secret to being bad night after night?
It’s actually quite fun. An evil character—unless it’s somebody who you really are—gives you more opportunity to go outside the boundaries of your natural personality and add more artistic flair than you would playing a ‘good guy’ role.
Where do you go from here?
I don’t know really! I’m going to take a bit of a break. I would love to come back and do The Lion King if it returned or opened in another city in Asia.
Any last comments for your Asian audience?
I’ve had the most amazing time in Asia. I love it. I’ve said this since the second day I got here. Everybody has been really welcoming. I would come back again.
Favorite Singaporean dish:"Carrot cake. White with a little chilli because black [carrot cake] too rich. Sometimes I mix a bit of white with black."
Dream role if not playing Simba:'Donkey' in Shrek the Musical.
Common Brit expression he wants Asians to understand:You alright?. "This is a greeting like 'hello'. Whenever I ask someone that in Asia, they always look surprised and say 'Uh, I'm fine.'"