By Sean Fitz-Gerald
The last time The Lion King was popular in Toronto, Steven Allerick was busy waiting tables in a Danforth Avenue restaurant.
Now, the 24-year-old Ryerson theatre graduate is preparing to star in the musical adaptation of the animated Disney film when it opens April 25 at The Princess of Wales Theatre.
With all the tall, dark and handsome attributes of a leading man, Allerick was modest at a press conference held after the first day of rehearsals Monday.
Allerick, a 24-year-old Scarborough native, had to go through four gruelling auditions to land the part of Simba, the lion cub at the centre of the story. More than 6,100 actors from around the world auditioned during an exhaustive 11-month quest to fill the musica’s 48 roles. In the end, 40 Canadian were hired.
“I don’t look at myself as the main guy, because most of this is an ensemble show,” said Allerick, who graduated in 1997. “I am the Lion King, but everybody’s got a huge part to make this story come together.
Standing near the stage inside a converted west-end Toronto church, Allerick smiled and laughed for a throng of photographers and television crews.
“I think Ryerson’s training was fantastic,” he said. “We didn’t touch as much on dance or singing as much as I’d have hoped for this kind of show, but it gave me a very good ground base.”
Allerick has done some work on television series’ such as Relic Hunter and Earth: The Final Conflict, but was forced to hold a number of jobs such as ushering and stage door security at the Ford Centre to supplement the income of his fledgling acting career.
“I think he’s quite a find,” said Julie Taymor, director of the show.
Taymor, who directed the gory adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus in theatres now, said Simba’s character was the hardest to cast.
“Young men are not trained any more to go into musical theatre,” she said. “They either want to be pop stars or they want to be movie stars.”
The show will undoubtedly be the most talked about theatre event of the spring when it first previews on March 30. Toronto will join New York, London, Tokyo and Osaka as the only cities to host the hit musical. The new York production of The Lion King won a Tony Award.
The play’s actors will not only sing and dance, but will puppeteer as well. Part of their costumes’ are puppets fashioned after each character.
Actors will have to control and manipulate the dummies as they perform their routines.
“It’s an artistic show,” said Allerick. “And the audience has to use their imagination to get into it.”