Given that gossip is basically a form of currency within the Broadway community, it's almost refreshing to run into someone like Kissy Simmons. Who really does know how to keep a secret.
Take -- for example -- what happened when I asked this talented young actress (Who's currently appearing at the Minskoff Theatre in Disney's "The Lion King." Which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Broadway next month) about what it was like to meet Michael Jackson.
Well, Kissy will admit that the King of Pop recently did bring his children by to see the Broadway version of "The Lion King." And that she did see Michael when he came backstage to meet the cast. But other than gushing about what a thrill it was to meet this entertainment icon ... Ms. Simmons zipped her lip.
Of course, this is not say that Kissy doesn't actually have some juicy tales to tell about her time in this long-running show. Take -- for example -- how Ms. Simmons actually came to play the role of Nala.
"In the summer of 2001, I was down in Florida appearing at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre," Kissy recalled. "I was playing the narrator in this production of 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' there when I heard that Disney would be holding an open call for the upcoming 'Aida' tour at the Apollo Theatre."
(L to R) Wallace Smith (Simba) and Kissy Simmons (Nala) in Disney's "The Lion Kong." This Tony Award-winning production is celebrating its 10th anniversary next month at the Minskoff Theatre. Copyright 2007 Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus. All Rights Reserved
So Ms. Simmons and her boyfriend flew up to NYC in August to attend these auditions. Not realizing that Disney Theatrical was actually using this open call as a way to find performers for the first national tour of "The Lion King" as well as the upcoming "Aida" tour. And the Mouse must have liked what they saw, for they immediately asked Kissy to fly back up to the city for another round of auditions.
So back to New York City Ms. Simmons went for what she originally thought would be just a three-day-long visit. She arrived in the city on September 9th, appeared at the callbacks on September 10th, and then thought that she'd be flying out of NYC the very next day.
Which was September 11, 2001.
Given that Kissy and her boyfriend were staying in the Doubletree in Times Square, they basically had a front row seat for this national tragedy. Which -- as you might guess, given that Ms. Simmons grew up in Floral City, Florida (a town that prides itself on the fact that it only has one traffic light) -- was completely overwhelming.
"It was an awful, awful time. We were literally trapped inside the city," Kissy continued. "And we had only brought three days of clothes with us. Which -- because literally nothing in NYC those first few days afterward -- meant that we actually had to wash our clothes out in the bathtub and then hang them up the hotel room to dry."
To their credit, even in the middle of this horrible event, Disney Theatrical still did everything it could in order to try and make Ms. Simmons and her companion comfortable. The Mouse picked up the full cost of their hotel room (It would be 8 days before Kissy and her boyfriend could finally get a flight back to Florida). Not to mention helping these two pass the time by getting them tickets to various Broadway shows.
The opening scene from Disney's "The Lion King." Copyright 2007 Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus. All Rights Reserved
"That's actually how I got to see the stage version of 'The Lion King' for the first time," she said. "I had seen the cartoon. But I didn't have any idea about how they'd go about translating that to the stage. I just figured that Disney would do what had been done with 'Cats.' Which is have people on stage wearing big furry costumes."
But what Ms. Simmons saw at the New Amsterdam, particularly admid the lingering sadness of 9/11, moved her deepily. Here was a show with some real sweep and grandeur. But what impressed Kissy the most about Disney's "The Lion King" was the way that the performers & their animal puppets would come together to form a single performance.
"I mean, I had worked with puppets before," Kissy explained. "I had shared the stage with Audrey II in 'Little Shop of Horror.' But what these people were doing on stage with those puppets was completely different. As I was watching the show and saw how naturalistic they were making their animal puppets move, I kept having to remind myself that it wasn't real."
Given how impressed Ms. Simmons was with the Broadway version of "The Lion King" ... When Disney Theatrical called and offered her the part of Nala in the show's first national tour, she immediately said "Yes." Then -- after six weeks of very intense rehearsals -- this traveling version of Disney's Tony Award winner opened in Denver in February of 2002. Which is when Kissy began knocking people dead with her performance of "Shadow Land" at the top of the second act.
In fact, Ms. Simmons' portrayal of Nala was so acclaimed that -- in little more than a year -- Disney Theatrical asked her to come to NYC and begin playing that same role in the Broadway show.
Kissy Simmons currently starring in the Broadway production of Disney's "The Lion King." Copyright 2002 Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus
And for over 4 years now, that's just what Kissy has been doing. Singing her heart out in a show that she loves. Marveling that "The Lion King" 's new home is right in the heart of Times Square. Not to mention savoring a part that -- because the adult version of Nala doesn't actually appear on stage 'til the second act begins -- leaves Ms. Simmons plenty of free time backstage.
"I don't even start get into Make-up until 25 minutes into the first act," Kissy said. "Mind you, it actually takes them 45-50 minutes to put on my make-up. And by the time they're performing 'Hakuna Matata' out front, I'm finally in Hair. Getting my wig glued to the side of my head."
So what does Kissy do with the rest of her free time during the first act of Broadway's "The Lion King"? Again, Ms. Simmons zipped her lip.
But I guess you really can't blame the woman. Given that Kissy's now the reigning queen of "The Lion King" ... she's entitled to a few secrets.
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Jim Hill talks with Deborah Warren, publicist for this brand-new production of the acclaimed stage musical. In particular discussing the many challenges that Disney Theatrical faced while setting up shop at the Mandalay Bay Resort
Loin King was the best i went a CWF trip with 4h and we stopped in New York and went to Loin King it was the best show ever i LOVED!!!!