By Jill Diver
Bringing a children’s movie with animated characters to life on stage is no easy feat. That’s what makes the theatrical version of Disney’s “The Lion King” — with its more than 200 puppets and masked actors — so impressive.
The six-time Tony Award winning musical is playing at the Boston Opera House through March 21. It tells the story of the lion prince Simba, who is tricked by his uncle into thinking that his actions led to his father’s death, causing him to flee in shame. Years later, he returns to take his rightful place as king.
Brent Harris, 50, of Virginia, plays the villain Scar, Simba’s uncle and brother to King Mufasa. Scar is in line to be the next lion king until the birth of Simba.
It is then that Scar plots the death of both his brother and nephew so that he claim the role of lion king.
“Scar has a bigness, a grandness and complexity and language involved in the character,” Harris said. “The challenge of the show is to show the whole the spectrum of emotion. You have to be able to switch from one to the other and keep it all going at the same time.
“There is a very serious element to the play, but even the funny characters have their serious moments,” he said. “It’s about Simba finding himself and living up to his responsibility and how he deals with the darkness, that occur in everyone’s life.”
As the villain in the show, Harris had to “let go and access the darker side of himself.
“When playing parts like this, you have to find what is sympathetic of the character; he has a past and feels cheated,” he said. “At some point, everybody feels that we haven’t gotten what we deserve. I like trying to balance both of those things (in the character).”
While Harris is balancing the different sides of his character, he is also trying to maintain his own balance on stage with a 2-foot mask on his head.
“I manipulate it and it goes up and down and involves unusual manipulation with my neck and back,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in front of a mirror. The costume weighs about 40 pounds — it’s quite challenging to move around on stage.”
“The Lion King” will resonate with both adults and children, Harris said.
“It is an amazing experience to be a part of this huge, intricate show,” he said. “It’s amazing to feel the audience response every night, which is overwhelming. It reaches (the audience) on all levels. It’s not kiddie theater, and yet children respond to it as powerfully as adults.
“This is a show that has huge sweeping stage spectacles to very small moments, and both of them are very wonderful.”