It is the highest grossing musical in Broadway’s history, with over 100 million audience members world-wide who have seen it live and it has won over 70 theatre awards internationally. It is the world’s number one musical.

Disney proudly presents Broadway’s The Lion King National Tour and it has found it’s Pride Rock right here in Norfolk at Chrysler Hall. It will be here May 29th through June 9th.

“There is simply nothing else like it.” Says The New York Times.

“A feast for the eyes and ears.” Says WWOR-TV.

Newsweek declared, “The most exciting, most inventive, most moving theater that has ever come to Broadway.”

We are fortunate to have one of Virginia’s native sons Kyle Robert Carter, born and raised in Woodbridge, VA who is the understudy for Mufasa and a swing, talk with us about The Lion King National Tour.

Yiorgo: Welcome home Kyle. Tell us about your early life and what made you fall in love with musical theatre?

Kyle Carter: Thank you, it’s good to be coming back home to Virginia. You know the benefit of growing up in Northern Virginia is a ridiculously amount of diversity. At my high school, we had many students from different parts of the world. It was a great place to grow up and to understand that the world is not one thing, just as the state of Virginia isn’t just one thing. I really enjoyed growing up there.

I always wanted to go to Notre Dame so I applied early and got in originally on an engineering scholarship. I realized early that physics and thermal dynamics are very hard. At the same time I was part of a community theatre group at the University of Notre Dame and it took over my life even though it was an extracurricular activity. I got my degree in industrial design and in 2010, when a buddy of mine who was living in LA invited me to move in with him there, Beverly Hillbillies style, I packed everything and moved in. I started taking acting classes there and booking work ever since.

Y: I would think that your degree comes in very handy in theatre.

KC: Even though I’m artistic, having the engineering side of my brain is what really makes me good at my particular job in The Lion King. I’m a vocal swing, and I have to know all the male singer parts, everywhere they go on the stage and every prop they use. I’m also Mufasa’s understudy so I have to know everything about Mufasa’s role and I have to know how to use all the props that dancers use in case a dancer gets injured. Luckily for me, my brain always thinks about how things work and how do I fit into this Lion King machine? With this being my very first time being a swing, I found out very quickly that it’s actually a great job for me because I am able to see myself within the system as a whole and I’m not just on the stage as myself. I love being on the stage constantly thinking, ok where do I fit in right now.

Y: How did the opportunity come up to be in The Lion King? Tell us about the audition, getting the part and being Mufasa’s understudy.

KC: I eventually moved from LA to New York City doing the same thing, taking acting classes and booking gigs. The entire time I was living in New York, I was auditioning for The Lion King. I had six rounds of auditions over the course of five years each time giving me notes to work on. This last time I did a really good reading as Mufasa, I sang a song and they really liked it, and the choreographer said to me, “So you know the dance, do you know to do it if we reversed it? Everything now is based on your right foot, can you dance it based on your left foot?” I said, “I’ll give it a shot.” I did it and I almost knew instantaneously that I booked it by the look on their faces, that this guy could fill a lot of bills for us. He can understudy someone, he can dance on his right and left side in this very important dancing show and within four hours my agent called and said, “You booked The Lion King.” It’s a show that I always wanted to be a part of it and now I’m on tour with it, a year and eight months to be exact.

Y: Have you had the opportunity to play Mufasa?

KC: Yes indeed, I have had the opportunity to play Mufasa several times. It’s truly an awesome experience and to stand on top of Pride Rock, it was just amazing.

Y: Tell us a couple of wow moments that you have experienced.

KC: When I first moved to LA I had this amazing audition experience. It was a dance studio and the audition casting notice said we are looking for singers who can also dance. I showed up in basketball shorts, my Michael Jordan tee shirt and my blue Jordan’s on and everyone there was a professional dancer from the six year old to the adults, dressed as professional dancers. Part of me wanted to leave, but the other part of me that loves competition caused me to stick it out. They asked me to do a move that I did not know at that time and I had to ask them to show me what it was. All the little kids are laughing and a little kid steps up and shows it to me. I gave it a shot and did very poorly. Later on they asked the dancers to sing. I sang and I was very good at it. When I finished singing, the woman leading the audition said, “Well now we know why you are here, because it was not for the dance. She pulled me aside and asked if I knew who Jaleel White is? I said yes Steve Urkel from TV’s Family Matters and she said yes, we are looking for somebody to be his understudy in this Christmas show and if you show up Monday, that’s your job. So just because I stayed there, I got the job. I called my mom and told her about it. She asked the name of the dance studio and when I looked it up it was the Debbie Allan Dance Studio and the woman that hired me was Debbie Allen.

My second wow moment happened within my first month of working in The Lion King. Without giving away any trade secrets, there is a ritual that we do when you are on a tour and as an actor, you have to accept the fact that you will never have a steady paycheck but The Lion King has been running for so long that you can actually make a living as a professional artist for years in this profession. We were in Baltimore and they did the ritual as I’m walking down the hall for everyone who is on tour. My eyes are closed and I’m thinking how when I was young, there were days that dinner was rice and a piece of chicken and now I’m working in The Lion King and I have a stable job for as long as my contract says. I teared up knowing that my hard work and perseverance has given for me a steady paycheck. It meant the world to me.

Y: Why should people see the show?

KC: When you come to see the show, this level of puppetry on tour just doesn’t happen. So you are going to see something that is intensely unique. If you see only The Lion King once, it really is a once in a lifetime experience because it sells out and there are people that want to see it and never get a chance to.

The puppetry in the show is masterful. Julie Taymor and the entire creative team that created the show, created something that is so iconic that still today, when you see the Mufasa logo, you instantly know it’s The Lion King. From a theatrical standpoint it’s beyond the movie now, this is bringing it to where you are.

With these puppets, you’re never going to get the same show twice because these puppets are so demanding that people will be injured and you will get an understudy or swing and they will have a different feeling for that puppet from the last person who played it.

That Zazu puppet is so intricate, so masterful that each individual Zazu puppet is like $50,000. The puppetry is so beautiful that it is a must see event.

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Yiorgo is a Hampton Roads arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also an educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.

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