5 Questions from Over the Pond: Bradley Gibson & Nick Afoa
Broadway and the West End's favorite leading lions go mane-to-mane in this month's special edition of 5 Questions from Over the Pond...
This past weekend the highly anticipated CGI remake of Disney's The Lion King took a staggering $190 million at the domestic box office during its first weekend of release. I'm sure this comes as no surprise, considering the recent commercial success of Disney's current trend of live-action remakes, reboots and spin-offs of its beloved back catalogue of animated classics. This year alone has seen Tim Burton re-imagine the 1941 classic "Dumbo" and Guy Ritchie recreate 1992's "Aladdin" for a whole new generation (with a little help from Will Smith as Genie) and now director Jon Favreau (who also helmed the 2016 remake of "The Jungle Book") has returned with a fresh take on arguably the most dominant classic in the Disney canon. And as if the brand alone wasn't enough just cause for the hype, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has also been making headlines with her star turn, voicing the role of Nala and giving us the beautiful, original song "Spirit."
The Lion King was a marvel of animation upon its release in 1994 and remains the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, but, of course, technological advances in the genre over the past 25 years have rendered this artform somewhat of a rarity in favor of the all-conquering, ever-popular CGI format. So, it seems only fitting that a new generation of youngsters might be introduced to the tale of Simba through the medium that they've become most accustomed to. And for those of us a little longer in the tooth, this new remake offers a healthy dose of nostalgia, as well as an opportunity to gawk at the visually stunning effects in a new light. With a loving nod to the original, as James Earl Jones reprises the role of Mufasa, the circle of life (and re-invention) keeps going round and round for this undying franchize that is still 'feeling the love' after all these years.
For all its naturalistic wonder though, the new film is still no match for another chapter of the franchize, in terms of imagination and thinking-outside-of-the-box creativity... and, yes, we may be biased, but we're of course referring to the stage musical which roared onto the Broadway scene in 1997 and is still playing to capacity crowds at the Minskoff Theatre today. After more than two decades on the Great White Way, director and costume designer Julie Taymor's distinctive interpretation stands the test of time and is still a Broadway go-to-destination for visitors to New York City from all over the world. I recently attended a performance of the musical and there was no sense of the stagecraft feeling dated or tired. The lighting effects during the "He Lives in You" musical number are still breathtaking and kudos to Bradley Gibson, Broadway's current Simba, who is not only in fine voice, but also boasts great nuances in his acting, particularly in terms of Simba's feline restlessness and agitation as he struggles with his past whilst trying to live out the "Hakuna Matata" lifestyle as an outcast.
And speaking of Bradley, what better way to celebrate this new chapter in The Lion King's impressive history than to dedicate this month's edition of "5 Questions from Over the Pond" to it, as we pair Bradley up with the West End's own Simba, Nick Afoa...
Here are the questions from London's current star Nick Afoa for current Broadway star Bradley Gibson:
1. Nick: How does it feel when you first swing onto stage?
Bradley: It’s electrifying! The audience is so excited. I know that they have already been on the ride for about an hour, so they are totally invested in the story and Simba’s journey.
2. Nick: What is your favorite song to sing in the show?
Bradley: It would have to be “Endless Night.” It’s such an iconic musical theater moment at this point. Getting the chance to sing a big juicy ballad on Broadway was always my dream growing up. I also really love the song because it gives the audience a closer look at what Simba is feeling and the pain he is trying to hide.
3. Nick: If you could play any other Disney character, who would it be?
Bradley: I’m not sure, but maybe a villain. The bad guy gets to have a lot fun on stage. Maybe Jafar!
4. Nick: Did you watch the film when you were growing up?
Bradley: I watch the animated film on repeat! I’m pretty sure I broke 2 or 3 Lion King VHS tapes!
5a. Nick: How did you get into musical theatre?
Bradley: I’ve been performing since I was about 5 years old. I started in dance classes and community theater.
5b. Nick: Have you performed in any other country? If so, are the audiences different to the US?
Bradley: I toured with the Broadway National Tour of Chicago right out of college, and we did an international stop in the Philippines for about 3 weeks. The audiences there were so excited about our show. What I found so different from a US audience, was their commitment to the show. People came back over and over again!
Check out Bradley Gibson's questions for Nick Afoa on our London Theatre Guide sister site here!
Disney's The Lion King Tickets are available now.