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‘The Lion King’ brings unique experience to Fresno stage

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus/Disney Nick Cordileone, left, and Ben Lipitz star as characters Timon and Pumba in “The Lion King.” The Broadway production of “The Lion King” begins a 12-day run, beginning tonight through Dec. 9.


After its run in Las Vegas finished this week, the cast and crew of “The Lion King” moved to Fresno to begin a run Wednesday at the Fresno Convention Center’s Saroyan Theater.

The Broadway production of “The Lion King” begins a 12-day run, beginning tonight through Dec. 9. Tickets can be purchased online at Ticketmaster; over the phone by calling 1-800-745-3000, or in person at the Selland Arena Box Office, Mon-Fri 10a.m.-6 p.m.

Broadway veteran actor Nick Cordileone will be part of the cast as Timon, a character he has played for the past 8 years.

“It’s a blast,” he said. “I love the song. I love the story. I love to travel from city to city. I like to manipulate the puppet I have. It’s a 3 ½ foot Japanese-style puppet. I’m behind the puppet. It’s really fun.”

Cordileone said that the play is unlike anything you have seen in a Broadway play or musical.

“You will totally recognize it from the animated movie,” he said. “It’s not like we’re in mascot uniforms like you see at the park. It’s a much more inventive way to tell the story. There are puppets, masks, silks and costumes. It takes the African heartbeat that was in the movie and it exhales into it. It tells a much richer story.”

Cordileone wasn’t planning on being a part of “The Lion King” cast, but he helped out with the casting and got the opportunity to play Timon.

“I was helping out the casting director with ‘The Lion King’,” he said. “I was reading parts opposite everyone coming in. They told me to be considered for this. I said absolutely. Ultimately, they thought it was a good match. I’ve been on tour for about 8 1/2 years. We’re on the road all 12 months.”

Cordileone has only played Timon in the past eight years and says the iconic song “Hakuna Matata” is part of the production.

“Timon is the only character I play,” he said. “We couldn’t do a show without Hakuna Matata. There’s a few new ones that give the play a little back story. Simba and Nala have a ballad they sing about their finding their journeys.”

About 50 cast members and about 70 more will travel with the show and head to Fresno.

“When we get to a venue, we’ll hire about another 100 people that know the facility,” he said. “There’s like a city going on.”

After rehearsals on the first day, Cordileone says he and the crew like to stake out the city and find those diamonds in the rough.

“We do a rehearsal in the morning before the audience comes in to learn the stage and the local team that is helping us is learning the show,” he said. “I ask them where do I need to go. Where’s the coffee I can’t miss. Where’s the place that people might miss. We have the luxury of being in a city longer. We get to find out what’s unique about a city and why do people come and stay there. We get to be mini-locals about the city.

“A lot of us like to sightsee or do some hiking. Some will find a gym to do yoga and pilates. The show is really physical so they are trying to stay in tune as much as they can. We try to find those spots people can miss or try to explore. I travel with a miniature schnauzer so I try to find some dog parks.”

Cordileone is originally from San Diego and matriculated to Phoenix, then to Flagstaff, then Minneapolis and finally settled in New York for the past 12 years with his wife.

He urges fans of the movie to see the show, but also urges those who are on the fence about watching a Broadway show to see “The Lion King”.

“We get a lot of people that see the show who aren’t necessarily fans and don’t like musicals,” Cordileone said. “You see them transform. They will sit there and have no idea that is what it was. There is something so unique about the way the story is told that you’ll find something you will enjoy. This is really a hybrid about what storytelling should be.

“You will sit there and won’t imagine what you’re seeing. The opening number is probably one of the best opening numbers in history.”


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