On Tuesday, Disney Theatrical announced the return of “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” on Broadway this September.
For cast members L. Steven Taylor, Mufasa in “The Lion King,” and Michael James Scott, Genie in “Aladdin,” the news ushered in a sense of excitement at a return to work and also fueled their desire to create a more equitable industry upon reopening.
Both Taylor and Scott are longtime Disney Theatrical cast members. Scott began as the original Genie standby on Broadway in 2014 and has since played the role on Broadway, on tour and internationally. Taylor joined “The Lion King” company in 2005 and toured with the production before returning to the role of Mufasa on Broadway in 2015.
Broadway News spoke with Taylor and Scott, who are both confirmed to return in their roles, Tuesday morning about restarting performances and their efforts to shape new equity and inclusion policies.
Broadway News: How does it feel to announce the return of your shows?
Michael James Scott: It’s such an honor to be able to actually say the word officially, out loud, not on a secret text chain or anything like that, but on national television and national news and make a big splashy announcement.
L. Steven Taylor: I’m really excited to get back to our castmates and our crew and our audiences. There’s a ton of excitement around it, but also, I feel like there’s a big responsibility and opportunity here with us being some of the first shows to open to be able to set the tone for what it’s going to look like for the other shows that open. That’s a responsibility that all of us are excited to take on.
BN: What kind of tone do you want to set?
Taylor: I think that first it’s coming back safely, following all of the CDC guidelines for the country and New York. But there’s also been a lot of work going on behind the scenes as far as making the space more equitable and inclusive. I think that’s a really important tone to set. At Disney Theatrical, conversations have been happening as far as how to move forward with our hiring practices and how we approach hair and makeup for a cast that looks like ours. So there’s been a lot of work that has been going on behind the scenes, and I think that is something that needs to be set for companies across the board, so that we create a more truly inclusive space, moving forward, that is representative of actual systemic change.
BN: You both have played these characters for many years. Do you feel ready to return to the roles?
Scott: The idea of playing the genie, again, eight times a week…it’s like a mountain. I think I took it for granted how we just did our shows and we just did our thing. Over a year off of that has made it pretty clear that we got some work to do.
But listen, I’m up for the challenge. And it’s not lost on me that I am a Black leading man in this community, at a giant company like Disney Theatrical. I want to get through the hard times of figuring out where we’ve come from and where we’re going. This is an opportunity to actually come back in a different place from where we were before. I want to take on that challenge.
Taylor: I think the key word here is just being intentional moving forward. I think that has been the thing that’s been missing over the years. It’s going to take every color, every gender, every facet of every production, from producers to crew, to actually make some of this change happen. I’m really excited about that, and I think that we have a unique opportunity, especially with “The Lion King” being a predominantly Black show, to lead the charge with some of these things.
I think the physical and vocal aspects of playing the role will come, but there’s no way that I can go back and play this role without adding all of the experiences from this last year into how I portray that character. And I think that’s the same for the show. I’m excited to see the fruits of our labor come into play.
BN: What moment do you envision when you think of your first performance back?
Taylor: For me, for pretty much every show, it’s “Circle of Life.” The cast comes through the audience to connect, and I think that is very symbolic and synonymous with Broadway coming back in general. “Circle of Life” is also the moment where the cast all checks in with each other; we’re making eye contact with each other. It solidifies the bond that we have as company members, so I’m really looking forward to that.
I’m also really looking forward to that opening Rafiki note, that “Nants ingonyama.” It’s going to be really difficult to fight back the tears and be strong and powerful.
Scott: For “Aladdin,” the curtain comes down as Genie is standing alone in a pool of light. It’s almost like this magic trick. He says, “Salaam and good evening to you worthy friends. Welcome to the fabled city of Agrabah!” and I can’t promise that I will actually say those words. There may be some other welcoming words like “We’re Back!”
The amazing thing about that is the intimacy that happens with the genie and the audience, and then he lifts the curtain and all the color, all the different shapes and sizes come on stage and we all unite. It’s the only time in the show that everyone in the company is on stage at the same time. So it’s an incredible moment for us.