And no, it is not for the slot machines or a game of black jack. The Smith Center for the performing arts will be converted into the Serengeti for Disney’s The Lion King musical as the show makes it back to Las Vegas. 90 million people worldwide have had the experience of an immersive dive back into this Disney classic with amazing visuals, not forgetting top tier performances from the cast. At the center of it, and in the leading role is Jared Dixon breathing life into Simba’s character.
Dixon took up the role in June of 2018, after being with ‘The Color Purple’ as Grady. The Queens native grew up having a hand in everything, but a heart for singing. The performance aspect was always in his family as his father was in the original cast for a Broadway show ‘Ragtime’, which happened to be his first show. Dixon calls his ‘The most coveted role for an African-American male in musical theatre.’ He sees it as one made for such, and thus, storytelling is important as it is not just for him, but for every black and brown child looking on from the audience. The weight of the show’s title is what he plays, and he must perform as such, as a King. He personally identifies with the role, with Simba, with the struggles and turmoil, but ultimately is aware that hope is existent as he climbs up on Pride Rock at the end of the show.
Jared is also aware of the influences and similarities shared between Lion King and Black Panther. He believes Black Panther is inspired by the lion king as pertains to the story, both princes losing their fathers and having to come to terms with the mantle they have to take up. When asked about the effect the Black Panther movie had on the musical, Dixon confirms that there ‘most definitely’ was an increase with attendance and overall interest, as it was a cultural event above everything else.
To prepare for the titular role, Dixon and fellow performer Nia Holloway (Nala) have visited a Big Cat Exhibit to see how lions are and how they interact with each other. Jared says that the physicality of the role is intense. Cats, unlike human, move with ease and without putting much effort into it. Performers must maintain their breathing even immediately after a physically demanding scene.
His efforts have paid off, as the audience confirms that his movements on stage are eerily reminiscent of an actual lion, layering on the subtle grace and beastliness of a big cat. This can be attributed to switching weightlifting which he enjoys, for more movement based workouts like yoga and stretching.
The Lion King was, and still is, a sort of rite of passage for every childhood, while still managing to give grownups the same feelings it did when they first watched the animated film as a child. The rollercoaster of emotions is relatable, and for this reason continues to attract audiences across the globe.
For Jared and company, bring static masks to life is one thing, but doing the story justice is another. Of course, the reality bending on-stage puppets and the tear-jerking score, done in majority by the legendary Elton John all provide for an awe-inspiring experience for the classic Broadway show.