Animation in Action:
Disney's 'The Lion King' goes to Broadway
NEW YORK (AP) - "The
Lion King" might find its look in the
stage wizardry of
director-designer Julie Taymor, but its
heart and humanity must reside
in the two young performers with amazing
voices who play Simba, the
It's Simba who makes the journey from
childhood to maturity, dealing
with his father's death and his own
responsibility in facing the future.
At age 11, Scott Irby-Ranniar, who
portrays the younger Simba, is a
"The Lion King," which opens on Broadway
today at the New Amsterdam
Theater, is not his first big-time
venture, although it certainly will
run longer than his last one. He had a
role in "Whistle Down the Wind,"
the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that
collapsed in Washington last
season and never made it to Broadway.
"It wasn't very hard to settle on Scott,"
Taymor said. "He is totally
intuitive. Scott walked in and he had the
The wide-eyed Irby-Ranniar appears
decidedly nonchalant, stretched out
on cushions in the wood-paneled lower
lobby of the New Amsterdam
"The hardest part is finding a way to make
it new every night - and
trying not to get bored," said
Irby-Ranniar, a computer buff and expert
skateboarder who would rather be surfing
the Internet than just about
The first thing Irby-Ranniar ever did on
stage was a school production
of "The Wiz" in which he played the Lord
High Underling. Now a student
at Manhattan East and Harbor Performing
Arts school, he has worked in
show business all his young life.
Taymor is equally enthusiastic about Jason
Raize, 22, the older Simba
who changes from callow youth to aware
adult. Raize was chosen after a
series of grueling auditions for Taymor
and choreographer Garth Fagan.
At the time Raize was working on the
national tour of "The King and I"
starring Hayley Mills.
The competition was fierce because the
musical required "triple-threat
work - singing, dancing and acting - that
you don't get to such an
extent in other shows," Raize said. "It
was more the sense of who can
take the challenge and not be daunted by
Raize, from Oneonta, N.Y., worked there
while in high school at the
Orpheus Theater, a semiprofessional
troupe. He came to New York with
his best friend, Jill, because she wanted
to be in the theater. He
stayed; she eventually left the business.
And Raize rarely has been out
of work since then, doing a variety of
shows including the recent
"Jesus Christ Superstar" tour with Ted
Neeley and Carl Anderson.
He calls his stint in "The Lion King" an
journey that began last May with
rehearsals in New York before moving
on to an out-of-town tryout in
How does Raize compare the stage
production with the movie?
"There never was much talk about the
film," he said. "It was a personal
choice whether to watch it or not. I went
back to look at some scenes
because Simba has been changed a lot.
There are expanded scenes and new
songs not in the movie.
"I went back to look at where we had put
in larger moments of character
development - to see the gaps that Julie
has filled in. She has done a
terrific job of creating a richer, even
more rewarding work."