Shaun Escoffery – interview

The Lion King
Interview by Christina McDougall

The Lion King is a story that we all know and love.

The theatre production of The Lion King has become the most successful musical in history. It has won six Tony Awards and has grown into 25 global productions in eight languages and has been seen by more than 100 million people, winning 70 major theatre awards internationally.

To coincide with their 20th anniversary, the multi award-winning musical has embarked on its second UK and Ireland tour. The Lion King opened at The Bristol Hippodrome on 7 September 2019 and will move on to the Edinburgh Playhouse from 5 December 2019. The production will also tour to the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff and Southampton Mayflower Theatre.

We sit down with Shaun Escoffery who has played Mufasa in the London production for 11 years as he tells us about his time playing this iconic character.

The Lion king is an all-time classic family show that is watched worldwide. How has it been to be a part of such an exciting show?

I’ve been doing this show for 11 years and I can remember the first time I was asked to audition. The process was thorough and I had six different audition stages before I was cast in the role. I remember when I got the role, I realised the enormity of the show. It has been running for 20 years and roughly 100 million people have watched it. Being in this show, you must hit the ground running, especially as there have been some serious actors who have performed my role before me, so the pressure is on. But it’s been a wonderful experience. I have grown up with the show and have learnt so much about myself, which has forced me to dig deeper with my ability as an actor, my work ethic and just how I approach theatre and the show daily in a serious manner. People will come and see the show for the first time, and they will have a high standard of demand.

Perhaps more than any of the other characters, the role of Mufasa is associated with the iconic voice of James Earl Jones, how do you make the role your own? Do you ever feel any pressure to replicate the performance of other actors who have played the role before?

No. James’ voice is amazing, and I can’t be like him. You must approach the character as your own. When they cast you, they know what they are looking for, they make the process so rigorous to ensure they have the right person for the role. I have to trust the process and trust that they see this character in me. Mufasa is a father and so am I. He is traditional, peace loving, a worrier, historic and very humble. He has all these qualities to make an iconic character. I didn’t have pressure because I didn’t want to copy anyone else. Everyone who has played Mufasa previously has played him in their own unique way. I had to find a happy medium to portray all his traits and try and showcase this clearly; I am constantly working on developing his character.

If you could be any character in the play who would you be and why?

Scar. I would love to play him because he is misunderstood. The story I know is that the scar on his face was given to him by Mufasa. So, it appears that his older brother bullied him back in the day. I would love to play him because he is complicated and wants to be appreciated.

The Lion King theatre production has been performing for 20 years, what is it about this story that makes people keep coming back to watch it?

The story transcends all ages, cultures and races. It’s a story that everyone can take something from. It has biblical experiences and has so many elements that can resonate with people. The storyline is about redemption, family, community, love and loss. It’s about finding your way and fighting for injustice. As humans we understand all these topics. From rich to poor, male or female, young or old, we understand. The music, African culture, harmony, bold colours from the costume, the puppetry; all these elements show the magic come to life which is extremely captivating and powerful. There have been times when I look out and see the audience faces light up and cry with emotion. It always moves me to think that this piece is so powerful, and I have never really taken that for granted.

Given your audience likely consist of fans of the motion pictures, how do you think viewing the stage version changes their experience of the story?

I watched the animated version years ago and took my daughter to see the new one recently. They are all amazing however I think the difference with the theatre piece is that it draws people in, they feel like they are a part of the performance. There is a 3D effect that is unique to the theatre show. People feel like they can touch the characters. Animals are walking down the aisle. People feel like they have had a real experience. You feel like you have gone to Africa. They also get a chance to experience real African culture, they learn to understand and feel a part of it. From the harmonies, to the clicking of the Zulu, you get to learn and appreciate the culture and see everything brought to life. It allows the audience to understand Africa and the pride land.

What is your favourite moment in the Lion King?

There have been so many highlights for me. from the first time we played at the Royal Albert Hall, to the first time we did the Olivier Awards. The Lion king was the first theatre that performed an autism friendly performance, where parents could bring their children in and they can express themselves in whatever way they want to and that really moved me. When we spoke to the parents after the show, a lot of them were in tears as they had never been able to take their children to the theatre without judgment. Being a part of that was very moving. Also meeting Denzel Jones! The Lion King is a rollercoaster of emotions. You never know what to expect. From celebrities to children in hospices – seeing the joy on people’s faces is always a highlight for me.

NEED TO KNOW: The Lion King is at the Lyceum Theatre and is currently booking until May 2020 | Book tickets | 20th Anniversary Gala Performance – 19 October 2019, 7:30pm Celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disney’s landmark musical The Lion King by attending this special red carpet gala performance at the iconic Lyceum Theatre on 19 October 2019 at 7:30pm. In the last 20 years, over 16 million people have enjoyed performances of The Lion King in London alone – join us to mark this landmark anniversary. Guests will receive a complimentary welcome drink as well as a souvenir 20th anniversary brochure to remember this very special evening. This performance is in support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Royal Academy of Music. Book tickets

NEED TO KNOW: The Lion King is at the Lyceum Theatre and is currently booking until May 2020 Book Tickets 20th Anniversary Gala Performance – 19 October 2019, 7:30pm Celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disney’s landmark musical The Lion King by attending this special red carpet gala performance at the iconic Lyceum Theatre on 19 October 2019 at 7:30pm. In the last 20 years, over 16 million people have enjoyed performances of The Lion King in London alone – join us to mark this landmark anniversary. Guests will receive a complimentary welcome drink as well as a souvenir 20th anniversary brochure to remember this very special evening. This performance is in support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Royal Academy of Music. | BOOK TICKETS