2 veterans from 'The Lion King' opening still roar

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 8:45 am •  Published: November 16, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — Camille N. Brown is a supple dancer who hails from California. Lindiwe Dlamini is a singer from South Africa. They would seem to have little in common. Except they do.

It can only be called a royal connection: Both have spent the last 15 years in the ensemble of "The Lion King" on Broadway. That translates into more than 5,000 shows since 1997.

In 15 years, Dlamini has welcomed a baby girl and Brown has been married and divorced. They've suffered the deaths of parents and cheered when their castmates gave birth or got married. They've bid goodbye to performers and welcomed fresh ones. They've danced at backstage Halloween parties and shared potluck dinners.

And like the show itself, which is celebrating its milestone anniversary this week, they plan to keep on going. The lithe dancer who now has a hint of gray in her close-cropped hair and the quick-to-smile singer from South Africa are as much at home together as anywhere else.

"I think we're going to be friends forever," says Dlamini, looking at Brown. Her friend nods vigorously.

WOBBLY AUDITIONS

Brown and Dlamini still remember their auditions for the show, back in the year when Hong Kong was handed to China and designer Gianni Versace was murdered.

Brown, who had been on Broadway in "The King and I," had read about artistic visionary Julie Taymor and happily landed an audition for the musical based on the Disney film.

"I think, at the time, I thought loud was good. So I sang 'Get Here (If You Can)' and I sang it really loud," she says, laughing. "I really wanted to do the show."

Several callbacks led to a role in the ensemble for the former Martha Graham Dance Company soloist: "I really was elated. I had no idea that 15 years later I'd still be happy in the same show."

Dlamini, who missed the earliest reading since she was pregnant, auditioned when the show made the leap to Broadway. But when it came time to sing, she panicked as Taymor watched.

"I couldn't remember what I was supposed to sing," she says. "I sang the national anthem of South Africa. And I sang it loud, too. I did the same thing. I sang it louder and louder and louder."

She got the job, of course, and knew it was going to be special during an out-of-town tryout in Minneapolis when she saw the audience crying. "That feeling, even today, I still get," she says. "Somehow I felt like, 'OK, this is going to be a long-running show.'"

'A DEEP MOTOR'

Slowly, as the show matured, they became the veterans. Brown and Dlamini — along with ensemble member Ron Kunene — are the only performers to have lasted since opening night on Nov. 15, 1997.

New cast members seek them out for advice and ask Dlamini questions about Swahili words. "It's fun," she says. "When they come in new and excited, you're like, 'Wow. This is how it felt for us when we started the show.'"



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