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Tshidi Manye, L. Steven Taylor of ‘Lion King’ talk diversity on Broadway

(Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

(Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

Tshidi Manye and L. Steven Taylor joined the cast of Disney’s The Lion King in 2006. Manye was cast as the royal advisor, Rafiki and Taylor, an understudy. The Lion King is Broadway’s third longest running show and the highest grossing Broadway production of all time, having grossed more than $1B and six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Following the Tony Award’s announcing an unprecedented number of Black nominees, the actors credit Disney with having the foresight and vision to explore diversity in unique ways ranging from the number of languages in the play to the transformation of Rafiki’s character from male in the film to female in the play.

When asked about The Lion King’s staying power on Broadway and what sets it apart, Manye and Taylor lit up, both actors exclaiming that The Lion King is “everybody’s story.” Taylor, who stars as Mufasa, felt that the imprint between a father and son detailed in Mufasa and Simba’s storyline, is enduring and a dynamic that every parent and child, notwithstanding their cultural roots, can relate to.

He said, “Every parent has had a moment where they’ve struggled to drive a message home to their kid,” said Taylor.

Originally cast as the understudy for the roles of Mufasa and Scar, Taylor’s path to the role of Mufasa seemed to be a natural progression, but the actor admits to having the same anxieties as if he entered into the audition cold.

The Lion King is the largest thing that I’ve ever been a part of, and I really, really wanted it and Mufasa is a character that I’ve always identified with and felt a little bit a part of and I think I put a little bit of extra pressure on myself to be able to get the role,” he said.

Manye, who plays the esteemed shaman Rafiki, feels very close to her native home Johannesburg, South Africa in this role. “The music takes me back home; some of the costumes take me back home; the language takes me back home,” she said.

Manye, who is Broadway’s longest running Rafiki, speaks of the spirituality involved in the play and its connection to the audience, especially in the scene where she presents Simba and Nala’s newborn cub. She said, “I was speaking my language, and although they couldn’t understand me, they felt it, spiritually.”

angela d. mack (Twitter: @AngelaDMack)