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Friday, November 10, 2017

Lion King Roars into Baltimore

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
A man of many roles: Christopher L McKenzie, Jr A man of many roles: Christopher L McKenzie, Jr

Disney musical provides relief from lying kings, scheming presidents

“The Circle of Life” lifts Charm City to soaring heights this month as the The Lion King national tour embarks on its three-week run this November at the Hippodrome Theatre. Roaring into Baltimore, the beloved Disney classic will have audiences spellbound. Baltimore OUTloud recently chatted with Christopher L McKenzie, Jr., swing and dance captain for the production.

“I have the blessed opportunity to play multiple roles through my role as swing,” McKenzie began. The humble, Miami-native plays a zebra, a bird soloist, giraffe and gazelle throughout the piece. “I play different animals with different movements throughout the show. It’s very fun!”

McKenzie impressed that the performance is so much more than just what audiences will see and hear. “This show is about what you feel throughout. You’re going to feel more spirit, an ethereal uplift from what’s going on in this world. The volume of the expression throughout this performance in unbelievable. It’s a blend of Balinese puppetry and African mask-making. Since The Lion King draws on diverse cultural experiences the performance invites everyone to experience this one big party and celebration of life.”

As both dance captain and swing playing so many animals characters, McKenzie spent hours studying videos and visiting zoos to understand his character’s puppetry movements. “The creative team helps you to study the mechanics of the puppet,”he says. “It’s built to move the way the animal would move. Therefore, you get in it and you become the animal. The detail and the movement allows you to fall right into it.”

The Lion King appeals to all age groups, McKenzie says. “There are so many life lessons present in both the movie and the Broadway show. You can watch the shows repeatedly, and each time you’re going to get a new lesson. There are so many lessons provided by both the primary characters and the ensemble. There’s just not one specific lesson that the audiences will take away from the show. It’s very multifaceted.”

For McKenzie, whose struggle began with being born with spinal meningitis then being misdiagnosed with autism at the age of six, being able to travel around the world and experience this show in the capacity as dance captain is amazing. “This show is just absolutely life changing. Everyone is so great at what they do. This cast is fantastic. The show inspires us to continue to strive and keep going to make each show the best we can make it.” McKenzie added that not just within the performance of the show, but lessons permeate to the cast’s real lives, as well.

“It inspires us within the cast to do more with our individual talents, too. Just like the character of Simba, who lost his father, I lost my own father two years ago. This show hits home, and the growth that I see from where I started to where I am now is overwhelming.

“The show has inspired me to feel that this moment in time is where the universe has put me and this is where I’m supposed to be. The show has inspired me to embrace this with open arms and that I’m going to continue to inspire and grow.”

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