“I WANT to play it for real,” actor Josh Quong Tart says of his role as the evil Scar in “The Lion King”, now running in Sydney at the Capitol Theatre.
He has the lion’s share of the drama in this newly-staged, “home-grown” version of the world’s most popular musical that grew from the Disney animated film, and it’s no accident.
Spare a thought for former NZ rugby player and professional singer, Nick Afoa, who plays the hunky young prince lion, Simba. He’s the nice guy, but as all theatrical pros know, audiences prefer the villain.
The mastermind of the show, the overall director Julie Taymor, knows it, and recently wrote: “Scar is a more active force in the drama… and has a wider range of emotions.”
Associate director, John Stefaniuk, who has staged the new Australian production, says: “Josh Quong Tart came to the table with such wonderful ideas about the character.”
Quong Tart concurs modestly, also agreeing with Stefaniuk that “The Lion King” is “like a Shakespearian play” in its scope. Indeed, the very idea of the evil Uncle Scar was lifted straight from “Hamlet”.
“It’s not a carbon copy of anything… I’m approaching this like I’d approach a play, asking who? What? Where? When? Why?” he says.
“That way, every night it’s fresh, and it gives the show real longevity.”
He plays the conniving, ambitious, psychologically-twisted lion that plots to take over the throne and yet delights the audience with ironical quips, just like Richard III.
But Quong Tart, familiar to Canberra audiences from his appearance in the 2012 “Wharf Revue”, refuses to play it just for laughs.
“He’s terrifying and, yes, he’s fun… that’s why, as an actor, you have to do all the psychology,” he says.
This has been a unique experience for Quong Tart – it’s a spectacular production, with colourful new costumes conjuring up the savannah and the raw ferocity of the jungle, brilliant puppetry of many kinds, dance drawn from places as far apart as Africa and Bali and music, authentically African songs and the famous film numbers by Elton John and Tim Rice.
But to Quong Tart, the uniqueness lies in the fact that it’s just about the most multicultural cast in the world, with performers drawn from Australia, NZ, Ghana, Zimbabwe, China, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Brazil, the US and, most strikingly, South Africa.
“The Lion King”, Capitol Theatre, Sydney, Wednesday-Sunday until further notice. Bookings to 1300 558878 or lionking.com.au