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"The whole Lion King experience has been overwhelming, starting with Michael Eisner sitting there at the first run-through with his jaw on the floor as (director) Julie Taymor laid out what we were going to do."
--Jason Raize, Daily Variety








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The Lion King
 
Circle of Life from The Lion King
The Lion King's original Broadway cast
performs "Circle of Life"
(Credit: © Joan Marcus)
After performing for two years in national tours, Jason Raize found the role that would bring him national attention: adult Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King. Disney Theatrical Productions hired visionary director Julie Taymor to stage the hit animated feature about a lion cub who flees from home, then grows up to realize that he must face his past and become king. Through Taymor's imaginative use of puppetry, masks, costumes, and African music, The Lion King became one of Broadway's biggest hits of the 1990s.

"My dream was to originate a role on Broadway, anywhere in a new musical production," Jason said in a Hollywood Spotlight chat. "So taking a property like Lion King, a classic coming of age tale, and after hearing Julie give me the pitch for the musical and giving me her sketches, it was amazing! She thought of a new way to bring this story to people. I felt like I was working on something big and that I had a lot to contribute to it. Each actor did that, they were given so much room to bring the personalities to the role they were playing. Very rare opportunity."
Jason felt a connection with Simba from the first time he saw the movie. Like Simba, Jason had lost a parent when he was young. He also identified with the character's anxiety and desire for direction. Even when his contract with another show nearly prevented him from auditioning for Simba, Jason knew that he had to have the part. He showed up at an open call knowing he couldn't be turned away, and ultimately won the role of his dreams.

To prepare to play Simba, Jason watched a variety of nature shows to observe the animal kingdom and to study the attitude of lions. "Animals walk the plains and savannas without fear," Jason said in a TalkCity chat. "That's something we try to bring to the stage - that lack of fear of the world around us."

Jason and the cast headed to Minneapolis in summer 1997 for The Lion King's out-of-town tryout at the Orpheum Theatre, an experience which Jason said helped to bring the cast closer together. By then, The Lion King was building positive buzz in advance of its New York opening. When the show opened on Broadway at the newly-renovated Amsterdam Theatre on
November 13, 1997, The New York Times called it "one of the most memorable, moving and original theatrical extravaganzas in years." The Lion King quickly became the hottest ticket in New York.

Jason Raize & cast
                                            curtain call
(left to right) John Vickery, Scott Irby-Ranniar, Jason Raize, and Samuel E. Wright take their curtain call
(Source: Jason's official website, late 1990s version)
Creative Team
Julie Taymor
Director
 
Costume Designer
Julie Taymor and Michael Curry
Puppet Design

 
Mask Design
Richard Hudson
Scenic Design
Donald Holder
Lighting Design
Tony Meola
Sound Design
Garth Fagan
Choreographer
Elton John
Music
Tim Rice
Lyrics
Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer
Additional Music and Lyrics


Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Book
 
Joseph Church
Musical Director
Robert Elhai, David Metzger, and Bruce Fowler
Orchestrations


Jason's performance also received critical praise. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, "Jason Raize emerges as a matinee idol in his dashing portrayal of Simba." The Columbus Dispatch wrote, "Jason Raize's young-adult Simba is pumped with pride, passion and the hormones of a teen-age Broadway heartthrob." The Post and Courier of Charleston raved, "As the adult Simba, Jason Raize was ideally cast and possesses one of the most handsome and compelling faces I've seen on stage in recent years. I can't compare his stage presence with that of anyone other than, perhaps, James Naughton in Chicago, or Peter Gallagher in the revival of Guys and Dolls."

In fall 1997, Jason performed his solo "Endless Night" on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, an appearance which he told Hollywood Spotlight "single handedly made my career!" He also appeared on Good Morning America singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" with Heather Headley, on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee singing "Hakuna Matata" with Max Casella and Tom Alan Robbins, and again on Rosie performing in a medley of "They Live in You" and "He Lives in You." Jason also became the cover story for a January 1998 edition of InTheater magazine.
Original Principal Cast
Kevin Cahoon
Ed
 Max Casella
Timon
Tracy Nicole Chapman
Shenzi
Heather Headley
Nala
Geoff Hoyle
Zazu
Tsidii Le Loka
Rafiki
Stanley Wayne Mathis
Banzai
Scott Irby-Ranniar
Young Simba
Jason Raize
Simba
Tom Alan Robbins
Pumbaa
Kajuana Shuford
Young Nala
John Vickery
Scar
Samuel E. Wright
Mufasa
The Lion King was nominated for eleven Tony Awards in 1998 and went home with six wins. Nominations are listed below, with wins in bold.
  • Best Musical: The Lion King
  • Best Direction of a Musical: Julie Taymor
  • Best Choreography: Garth Fagan
  • Best Book of a Musical: Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
  • Best Original Score Written for the Theatre: Music by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer; Lyrics by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer
  • Best Orchestrations: Robert Elhai, David Metzger, and Bruce Fowler
  • Best Costume Design: Julie Taymor
  • Best Lighting Design: Donald Holder
  • Best Scenic Design: Richard Hudson
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Samuel E. Wright
  • Best Actress Featured Actress in a Musical: Tsidii Le Loka
The original cast album, on which Jason performed in "Endless Night," "Hakuna Matata," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and "He Lives in You," won a Grammy Award.
Later in his three-year run as Simba, Jason performed "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" on Good Morning America a second time and appeared as the cover story in InTheater again in 1999, this time with Samuel E. Wright. He performed at numerous events including the opening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame's new museum in Oneonta, a Rita Hayworth Gala to benefit the Alzheimer's Association, and This is Your Song: Broadway Sings Elton John. Jason's final performance in The Lion King took place on August 20, 2000.

In the February 1999 InTheater article, Jason explained, "When we were creating this show, we developed our own community. We had a sense of almost being in a bubble. We couldn't really explain what we were doing to our friends--all we were thinking was that we hoped people would like it. And the result was this amazing piece that we are all incredibly blessed to be a part of."
Jason
                                  Raize Hakuna Matata
Tom Alan Robbins, Jason Raize, and Max Casella perform "Hakuna Matata"
(Credit: © Joan Marcus)

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Site originally conceived by Meredith Lee and Kathleen Ludewig in January 1998