To celebrate the Lion King & Jungle Festival coming to Disneyland Paris in June through to September. Disneyland Paris has published a Lion King Rhythms of the Pride Land interview with Show Director Christophe Leclercq.
When did you start working on this project?
Christophe Leclercq replied that Disneyland Paris made the decision to launch a brand new show based on The Lion King back in November 2016. He was then appointed to stage this new production from then!
How did you develop the concept of the show?
The Show Director said that Disneyland Paris wanted a show that was “completely different from The Legend of the Lion King which played at Videopolis between 2004 and 2009, as well as the Festival of the Lion King, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hong Kong Disneyland’s shows”. He then started to ponder how to transform this beloved film into a new show and “if it was possible to transpose this animal adventure into the world of humans”. He began to research this idea and found “fan-arts” that just imagined the characters of the Lion King in human form”. Which inspired him and therefore making “The Lion King and the Rhythms of the Pride Land is an unprecedented show based on the history of the Lion King”!
And this story is told through songs.
Christophe Leclercq explained, “due to the multicultural nature of our audience, we preferred not to use dialogues”. From this, the show is shorter than the animated film but it gave Disneyland Paris the chance to “add several iconic titles from the musical: on the one hand “Shadowland”, the song of Nala, and on the other hand “Endless Night” and “He Lives In You”. It seemed natural to bring them closer as Rafiki’s song responds directly to Simba’s questioning about his father”.
This show is titled The Lion King and Rhythms of the Earth. How did you deal with this rhythmic dimension?
Steve Sidwell wanted to “put the African traditions in the spotlight, while bringing a touch of modernity through new rhythms and new tempos, but always in the greatest respect”. There are four live percussionists on stage with scores written for them which is very precise and elaborated rhythmically. Their instruments are “specially adapted to fit into our decor and at times, musicians will be able to leave their pedestals to join singers and dancers. They are totally integrated into the show”.
How did you exploit these different areas according to each song?
With the new refurbished Frontierland Theatre, creating the perfect performance space and with the new equipment, it allows the lighting to shine on different areas of the scene and make each number unique.
You really exploit all the space!
Christophe Leclercq says there are many artists on stage at “different heights, but the scenery also evolves during the show: it turns, it swings and you have a few surprises! And then, there is the whole aerial dimension. Many things are going on in the air. It must be said that we installed in the hangers not less than 7 flying devices for acrobats, which means that during the 30 minutes of the show, they touch very little ground”.
Can you introduce your creative team?
He’s worked with Bradley Kaye, Principal Art Director for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, on the Jedi Training Academy, and together they figured it would be the right person to set the stage for our new show. For costumes, Disneyland Paris hired Mirena Rada, a well-known Disney and Disney comedy artist, including Tokyo Disneyland, who has already collaborated with us on the FanDaze event. For the musical arrangements, Disneyland Paris called Steve Sidwell, who had already signed those of the Disney Dream Parade, and for the choreography, Cathy Ematchoua brought us her inimitable style. For the lights, they asked Pierre Leprou to bring a fresh look. As for the sound, they owe it to John Moine de Russi, known as “Papa John”. He proposed a brand-new audio broadcasting system for the Frontierland Theater offering a totally immersive experience. There are only three other theatres in the world that has it, one in New York, one in Singapore and one in Sydney. According to Christophe “it is a very imposing system, which corresponds to 3 times that of an IMAX. We also have trackers for the singers, which means that the sound of their voices will move on stage depending on their placements. And all this can work with the light, which means that if a singer moves from yard to garden, sound and light will follow in real time. With all this, the public will be one with the music and feel totally impregnated by the rhythms of the Pride Lands”.
How did you build your “tribe”, the cast of the show?
Disneyland Paris auditioned for singers in London and Paris. A little more than 230 singers have applied for this show because The Lion King is a theme that speaks to a lot of people and as a result, they cast 22. Disneyland Paris has cast people who worked on The Lion King in the West End and other musicals like Motown. For acrobats, we auditioned in a gym near Disneyland Paris focusing on profiles from the world of gymnastics. A hundred gymnasts showed up and they chose 18 of them. Some of them come from big houses like Cirque du Soleil, from The House of Dancing Water show in Macau or from air shows in Paris. The dancers were the last to be auditioned. Last November 530 dancers showed up for 18 places. Some of them had also made Mogador and meet today with other artists they knew years ago on other productions related to the Lion King. This is a nice reunion around this story, and all these auditions were held in a beautiful atmosphere. In all, our Cast brings together no less than 9 nationalities!
Can you tell us about costume design?
The costumes are very important in the Rhythms of the Pride Land show. They are there to evoke the characters of the film through all sorts of references, especially in terms of colour codes of animals. For example, Rafiki is a mandrill and recognizable by it’s very colourful blue, red, white muzzle which inspired the creators to reproduce the same colors in his costume. For Simba, they used a “gabrielle”, which is a piece of costume that is placed on the shoulders, with a bow on which hangs coloured hair in the shade of a lion’s mane. And to do this, we opted for noble materials: leather, alcantara, etc. In the end, 400 costumes were made for a cast of 70 people.
According to the different staging of the Lion King around the world, the character that changes the most is probably Rafiki. How did you approach it?
Chistophe said “In the animated cartoon, it’s a male monkey, so the person who sings “Circle of Life” is a kind of independent voiceover. For the musical, they relied on the voice of this song to make Rafiki a female character. Leaving to do something different, I thought that our Rafiki could be a singer. In the end, it gives another dimension to the character. He becomes a sort of shaman, who leads the show and ensures the transitions between the numbers”.
Timon and Pumbaa are also difficult to represent on the stage. How did you envision them?
To translate Timon and Pumba into the stage show it was necessary to humanize them. So Christophe went back into the cartoons and studied the loveable duo. Christophe said “I immediately thought of Laurel and Hardy. This is how the costume of the character who plays Timon has a tail but in the shape of a meerkat’s tail. He also has big clown shoes that are reminiscing of the legs of meerkats”. And when it comes to casting, we have turned to comedians who look totally different. I think that will surprise more than one!
In the end, the emotion is still there!
Christophe said “music is paramount in this show and when I first heard this version of “Circle of Life,” I burst into tears”. He then said “there is, of course, the richness of the original material, but also the strength of this new version. There is also this striking decor”. Then combining the whole “live” side of the show: the songs, the choreographies, the aerial acrobatics. All of which touches the heart. It is Christophe’s role to put all these artists in harmony to create emotions. “Especially since we are inaugurating a new theatre, and to do so, I could not dream of a better story than The Lion King, with its power and spirituality. We are the first to live in this place. It’s up to us to make it sound from our voices and give it its soul”.
I hope you enjoyed Lion King Rhythms of the Pride Land Interview with Christophe Leclercq the show director! Check out what will be happening during this festival here!
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