‘Hamlet’ in Africa

The prospect of playing a small, burrowing mammal on stage for the next few years isn’t at all a con

The prospect of playing a small, burrowing mammal on stage for the next few years isn’t at all a concern for Nick Cordileone. He’s just adding to his Shakespearean repertoire.

“I’ve done a lot of classic Shakespeare theater and I’ve been a fan my whole life, and I just love how Disney took a lot of ‘Hamlet’ and turned it into ‘The Lion King,’ ” said Cordileone, who plays Timon the meerkat in the national touring stage production of Disney’s wildly successful 1994 animated film. “I have a lot of Shakespeare in my tank, and I see all the parallels with Hamlet and Richard III. This story has all those same bases covered and I love it.”

The national touring production, presented by Disney Theatrical Productions and directed and designed by Julie Taymor, who won two Tonys for her work on the Broadway show, is coming to Schenectady for a monthlong run on the Proctors stage beginning Tuesday.

It won six Tonys and earned five more nominations in 1998, and is still going strong on Broadway at nearly 5,500 shows and counting. The film version earned three Oscar nominations, with a win for Elton John and Tim Rice for their songs and lyrics, and another for Hans Zimmer’s score. Among the voices in the film were James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons. Nathan Lane did Timon’s voice for the movie and Max Cassella was the character on Broadway. Like Taymor, Zimmer is also working with the national touring production, as is choreographer Garth Fagan, scenic designer Richard Hudson and lighting designer Donald Holder, all of them Tony winners for their work with “The Lion King.”

‘The Lion King’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, through March 20; there is a 2 p.m. matinee on March 17, and only the 1 p.m. show on March 20

HOW MUCH: $20-$160

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org

Talented personnel

“It is an absolute joy to go to work each day with all these wonderfully talented people, and if I can do that for another year or two or more that would be great,” said Cordileone, who started his stint as Timon in June and is under contract until June of this year. “Hey, it looks like [the show] will be headed out for another year and if they want me I’ll do it. There were guys in the original Broadway production that stayed with it for years. They found this niche. So, if I’m happy with our partnership and they’re happy with me, I could do it another three or even four years.”

Along with Shakespeare, “The Lion King” also draws parallels to the biblical tales of Moses and Joseph. The story, which originated from an idea by writer Don Tisch, takes place in a kingdom of anthropomorphic animals in Africa, and centers on the trials and tribulations of a young lion named Simba and his two colorful associates, Timon, the meerkat, and Pumbaa, the warthog. Each actor is dressed up to some degree to look like his character, but each is also holding a puppet that is actually their character.

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“My whole body is visible, but I’m wearing a green jumpsuit and my face is made up in green and black, and I’m wearing a green wig,” said Cordileone. “You could decide to watch me instead of the puppet I’m controlling, so there are dueling events going on. To the audience, subconsciously, there’s a blending of our dual performances. When I first saw it on Broadway, it really blew my mind. It was such a fantastic idea and it worked so well.”

He first saw a glimpse of “The Lion King” in the 1998 Tony Awards on television.

“I can remember watching the number they did, and it was just mystifying,” he said. “It was game-changing, something like we had never seen before. But I never thought it was something that would be right for me.”

Early last year, he was working as a reader for the company that was casting the touring production.

“I sat in a room and read all the other lines while people were auditioning,” he said. “Then, a person walked up to me and said, ‘Is this something you’d be interested in doing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ So I kept on working as a reader and also auditioning myself. Then on the last day, I finally met Julie, and after auditioning all day I was asked, ‘Would you like to go on tour as Timon?’ ”

A no-brainer

He didn’t have to think twice. Since graduating from Northern Arizona in 2005 with a degree in theater performance, he has been busy working as an actor, first in the San Diego area and for the last five years in and around New York. This is his first national tour.

“I always thought I’d end up getting an MFA, but instead I moved to San Diego right after school and I got a pretty good gig with a resident ensemble group, and it afforded me the opportunity to do a lot of shows,” he said. “I did classics, I did musicals, and I was salaried. There’s only a small percentage of actors that can say that, and I thought that would be a good way to test my mettle.”

Cordileone was born in San Diego, moved to Minneapolis as a young boy, and then headed back west with his family to the Phoenix area. He has been performing since he sang in a church play at the age of 7, and while he enjoys musicals, he is an actor first and foremost.

“I did a musical here and there, and then I went to auditions in New York and heard people with these absolutely insane voices,” he said. “I can remember thinking to myself, ‘maybe I’ll be an actor who sings and not a singer who acts.’ ”

The trip to upstate New York will be his second.

“I took a train to Albany once, and being such a West Coast-minded person, I didn’t understand any of the geography of the East,” he said. “I was like, ‘There’s something above New York City?’ But I’m very excited about seeing the entire country and learning what it’s like up there. I want to get to know the personality of the audience.”

So far, the audiences have loved this national touring production of “The Lion King.”

“The reactions at the end of the show have been fantastic, and there’s nothing like it in the world,” said Cordileone. “I’m having a blast and this show really draws people in.”

Family ties

The only drawback is that he isn’t at home in New York all the time with his wife and 8-year-old daughter.

“Sometimes I leave a show late Sunday night, visit my family and then get back to the next show by Tuesday night,” he said.

“Or, they come and visit me on the road. We can plan our visits far in advance because I know our schedule, but we also Skype and video chat. We’re virtually connected.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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