Lindiwe Dlamini has been in the chorus of The Lion King on Broadway since opening night—in 1997.
She’s done eight shows a week, week after week, for more than twenty years. She writes:
As the last remaining original member of the chorus of The Lion King, I was there when the show won six Tony Awards at the 1998 ceremony, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical. It was a moment I will remember for years to come.
Much of the show’s experience comes from the unique dance and puppetry elements of the show. But the chorus members who created such stagecraft were not eligible for Tony recognition.
Chorus people do a lot of the work in a show like The Lion King. Our principals – the actors who play characters like Simba and Nala, Timon and Pumbaa – may carry much of the plot, but the chorus creates the experience. We say in The Lion King ‘the chorus members are the true principals of the show – we are in it from the beginning to the end.’ We also understudy the principals. Without the ensemble, the show wouldn’t be what it is.
This campaign seeks to create recognition for everyone who appears on stage in Broadway productions with the inclusion of two, new, competitive Tony Award categories, “Best Chorus in a Play or Musical” and “Best Ensemble in a Play or Musical.” It’s only right that theatre’s biggest honor and most public tradition include the backbone of the production, the chorus and ensemble members.
There are many people who have been with the company of The Lion King for a long time. And I have many friends and peers who have worked steadily from the chorus of one show to another. For them, chorus performance isn’t a stepping stone to greater fame; they have made being in the chorus their career. They love this work and are very good at it, and should have the chance to be recognized for their contributions to successful shows.
I am surprised a decision to recognize the chorus hasn’t been made before. I encourage everyone, members of Actors’ Equity and fans of theatre alike, to support these new categories.