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Tune Thursday: Timon tells tails ... er ... tales about his time on Broadway

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Tune Thursday: Timon tells tails ... er ... tales about his time on Broadway

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"Hakuna Matata ! What a wonderful phrase.
Hakuna Matata ! Ain't no passin' craze ..."

If ever there's anyone on this planet who understands that Disney's "The Lion King" ain't no passin' craze, it's Danny Rutigliano. For almost a decade now, he's been appearing in the Tony Award-winning stage version of this acclaimed animated feature. Which -- next month -- will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on Broadway.

And for most of those years, Rutigliano has been playing Timon the Meerkat. First as Max Casella's understudy. Then after that "Sopranos" star left TLK in June of 1998, Danny became the show's Top Cat ... er ... Meerkat. First performing this part at the New Amsterdam Theatre, then heading out to Hollywood to help open the Los Angeles company of the show before returning to Broadway.

And in spite of spending all that time performing the very same part, Rutigliano insists that he's still having a ball playing Timon.

"How can you not enjoy playing a part like this?," Danny explained in a recent interview. "I get to be part of an elaborate spectacle that wows audiences nightly. Plus my character has all these great laugh lines. Who wouldn't want a role like that?"

That said, Rutigliano still remembers when he initially auditioned for this Julie Taymor show. How he and the other would-be Timons found themselves working with the three prototype meerkat costumes that "The Lion King" 's design team had worked up. And even though two of those puppets would have been much easier to work with, Danny immediately realized which Timon Julie was going to go with.

Blake Hammond (Pumbaa) and Danny Rutigliano (Timon) in Disney's "The Lion
King" as it celebrates its 10th anniversary on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre.
Copyright 2007 Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus

"The Timon outfit she chose was admittedly the toughest one to work with. But it was also the exact right one for this show," Rutigliano said. "That costume allowed the audience to see the puppet & puppeteer as a single performance. That the two then came together to form a single character."

But that's the brilliance of Julie Taymor. As both a designer and a director, she saw the whole show in her head. And to give the Walt Disney Company credit, they backed Julie all the way. Spending a reported $15 million in order to make Taymor's vision a reality.

"The show that tried out in Minneapolis in July of 1997 is pretty much the same one that opened in New York five months later," Danny continued. "Oh, sure. We changed a line or a lyric here and there. But beyond that, what Julie originally envisioned, that's the show that audiences saw and loved. And 10 years later, they're still loving this show."

Thanks to all those performances, Disney's "The Lion King" is now the ninth longest running musical in Broadway history. Though if you were to ask Rutigliano which performance, out of all of those, was the most memorable ... I'm betting that he would probably talk about one that he and the rest of the company presented back in September of 1998. Back when President Clinton came to the New Amsterdam to see the show.

"That was wild," Danny recalled. "They actually blocked the streets in all directions surrounding the theater. We were frisked and wanded as we came through the stage door. I remember the Secret Service men hanging out on the fire escape right outside of our dressing room. Doing everything they could to make sure that the President and his family were kept safe while they were watching the show."

Tshidi Manye (Rafiki) in Disney's "The Lion King" as it celebrates its 10th anniversary
on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre.
Copyright 2007 Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus 

Mind you, as scary as that may sound, Rutigliano still remembers these same Secret Service agents standing in the wings as the "Lion King" cast performed. And these guys were clearly enjoying the show. Especially one ad-lib that Danny managed to slip into that night's performance.

"Do you know that part in 'Hakuna Matata' where Timon interrupts Pumbaa as he sings 'And I got downhearted every time that I farted' ?," he explained. "And my character says 'Not in front of the kids.' Well, that night, I said 'Not in front of the President.' And that line just brought the house down."

And Rutigliano continues to entertain audiences nightly at the "Lion King" 's new home, the Minskoff Theatre (This long-running Disney Theatrical production vacated the New Amsterdam back in June of 2006 to make way for "Mary Poppins"). Where -- on Sunday, November 11th -- this show will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Broadway with a gala performance.

If (to borrow a phrase from this Tony Award-winner's new promotional campaign) you just can't wait to see 'King,' you can learn more about ticket availability for the Broadway version of "The Lion King" by clicking on this link.

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  • I've seen the Lion King twice in the West End and it is a stunning show, anyone who hasn't seen it really should do as soon as they can.

  • Loved this show! Best live show I have ever seen! And Timon was AWESOME!!! Man....now I wanna go again!

  • Saw ths show in NYC in 2000.  have to say I finally know what critics say when they review a show and state the at the  spectacle out shines the show.

    Lion King is a perfect example of a show that wows you with effects and you forget about it the next day.

    Sorry...I was disappointed

  • An OK show but not my favorite.  I agree that it's mostly style with little substance.  And most of the new songs written for the show, especially the stuff with more of a genuine african vibe, are tons better than the mediocre Elton John stuff from the movie.

    I doubt I get much agreement on a disney board, but I even think the movie version was way overrated.  I never got what all the fuss was about.

  • I  would have to agree with you. After I saw the show I could not watch the movie for years. The new songs are so much more moving then the banal Elton John stuff.

  • I agree in that the "He lives in you" song performed in the show and appearing on the Rythm of the Prideland CD which came out just after the movie is probably one of the most moving parts of the show and it really is a shame it wasn't featured in the movie.

    I don't know the way in which people have seen it here, but I'm told there is quite a difference between watching it in a home venue such as west end or broadway and seeing the travelling version.

  • di have to say i have seen this film and its amazing. especially the part were simba sees his dad in the stars XD

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