ORLANDO, Florida — Viola Davis delivered an electrifying performance last weekend at the opening night of a stage adaptation of The Lion King at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.
The Academy Award-nominated actress joined a cast of talented singers and energetic dancers, alongside a 25-piece orchestra, for the spectacular hour-long theatrical extravaganza of the Walt Disney classic.
Embracing the role of celebrity narrator, the 48-year-old actress brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to “The Lion King — Concert in the Wild,” which included animated scenes from the original blockbuster movie.
“I love when you bring all the arts together: the dance, the music, the acting,” said Davis at the final dress rehearsal. “I think that that is art at its most potent.”
“It’s taken a lot of courage,” show director Marsha Jackson-Randolph said. “This is the first time that the story has been told integrating the elements of animation with live action, a dance narrative, with live orchestra, with choir, and importantly, a celebrity narrator.”
Dressed in a sleeveless orange flowing gown, Davis looked dazzling as she used her powerful vocals to effortlessly switch characters and bring to life Simba’s emotional journey to find his place as Lion King.
“I think the message of purpose, the message of family and ancestry, walking and stepping into one’s purpose is a message that all of us can relate to,” said Davis as to why The Lion King still remains one of Disney’s most popular animated films.
“They always say the two most important days in a person’s life is the day you were born and the day you discover why they were born,” she adds. “I think it’s that message in The Lion King that just moved a whole generation of people.”
“There are so many aspects of the story and its humanity that resonate from culture to culture,” said Jackson-Randolph.
Davis is the first featured narrator. Others who will join the high-profile lineup of Broadway, film and television stars, include Alfre Woodard, Joe Morton, Montego Glover and David Alan Grier to name a few.
The Harambe Nights special event takes place over 10 Saturdays through August 9, 2014. Each performance features a different celebrity narrator.
“We were very interested in the authenticity of creating more Africanism in the storytelling of this,” said Warren Adams, show choreographer and stage director. “So everything from the custom design to the movements would play a part in that.”
“My role is to bring out the traditional, authentic character,” said South African-born recording artist Nathi Gcabashe, who plays the role of a traditional healer inspired by the The Lion King character Rafiki. “The Sangoma as both a teacher and healer, helping Simba heal and guiding him as he prepares to take on the role of being king.”
The concert, alongside the Harambe Nights street party, is a brand new, after-hours, hard-ticketed event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of The Lion King film. The original movie, released 1994, won two Academy Awards and is one of the highest grossing animated films worldwide.
During the evening, guests were entertained by a live African band, stilt walkers, face-painters and some roaming character appearances at the fictional village of Harambe in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. They were also offered all-inclusive African-inspired cuisine and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, which reflect the diversity of restaurants found at the park and Animal Kingdom.
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