A very Disney and Scar-y 40th birthday

by Mike on May 9, 2013 · 5 comments

I love my job.  (I’m writing this bleary-eyed on a red-eye from LAX to Chicago, with a 4-hour layover before a half hour flight to Appleton, Wisconsin. I’m on a birthday high. Forgive me if I sound scattered and gushy!)

I am grateful for every day that I can say that I am a member of The Lion King National Tour.  I truly am.  There are so many reasons for this, including the whirlwind of traveling the country with my family, the opportunity to earn a living as an actor, and thrilling audiences nightly with some beautifully compelling storytelling. But one of the biggest reasons is because I work for an special company — a company with a rich history that has shaped the world as we know it.  It’s also a company that cares about its employees.  I experienced this first hand when I was asked to participate in an exciting promotional event at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. The event just so happened to be on my birthday — icing on the birthday cake!

The idea behind the event was to officially announce the return engagement of The Lion King National Tour at The Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, coming this Fall 2013.  These announcement events are fairly common, but this time they decided to do something different — Disney wanted to give a sneak glimpse into the inner workings of the show, using me as Scar to demonstrate the costume and puppetry. I was flown out from Appleton, Wisconsin to LA for a whirlwind day-and-a-half.

I got into “LA Mode” with new birthday threads and a stay at the boutique-y Hotel Amarano in Burbank.

Ang picked out these aviator sunglasses for me to make me feel more left coast. Those who know the regular t-shirt-and-jeans-Mike understand how funny this all is.

First things first! I got in the night before the event and was able to spend some time with our dear friends Stephanie and David in Studio City, who had me over for dinner so I could catch up with them and play with their adorable one-year-old twins Sophia and Orlando — and they had birthday candles with an assortment of delicious pastries!

Ang and I call David and Stephanie our doppelgangers, since they are also an interracial couple made up of an Asian gal and a white guy with glasses. Check out Stephanie’s painting on the wall behind them — she’s an unbelievably talented artist!

On the morning of the presentation, I was whisked from the hotel to Disney Studios in Burbank with a whole team…

We arrived to the sound stages. Stage 1 is known as the Fantasia Stage, and Stage 2 is dedicated to Julie Andrews since Mary Poppins and The Princess Diaries were filmed inside.

Our presentation was inside Stage 3 — where 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed.

Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney’s Theatrical division, hosted  a 45-minute presentation to a press/ticket sales crowd with a very special look behind the scenes of The Lion King, and its history dating back 22 years — from the initial conception of the blockbuster movie to what you see on the Broadway stage right now. A huge part of the stage magic is Julie Taymor’s vision of the costumes and puppetry, and that’s where I stepped in.

My part was to simply stand on stage while a whole team worked to transform me into Scar before the audience’s eyes. This amazing trio of a team works with the Gazelle tour each and every day: Michael Reilly, the head of the puppet department; Jen Ivey, head makeup artist; and Gregory Young, head of wardrobe. (And thanks to Syndee Winters — our Nala on hand to sing “Shadowland” for snapping these shots!)

Here are a few looks into our dry-run rehearsal before the audience arrived. Bathrobe Mike!

Gregory and Michael hooked me up to my corset and mask while Tom Schumacher talked me through the presentation …

Almost ready!

And it’s showtime!

I demonstrated Scar’s movements and the mechanized mask in motion.

Tom would prompt me with questions about the maskwork and acting in the Scar costume (which weighs 40 pounds!).

I was more than happy to talk about the experience of portraying Scar.

Also involved in the presentation were my two great friends Syndee Winters who plays Nala, and Nteliseng Nkhela who plays Rafiki.  They sang “Shadowland” for the presentation and killed it!

The event was a resounding success. There is quite literally nobody who is more of an authority on the history and creative process of The Lion King than Tom.  His easy demeanor, sense of humor, and off-the-cuff delivery was pitch perfect.

There was one other person who was involved on stage: the character animator Andreas Deja, who created Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Jafar from Aladdin, and The Lion King’s very own  Scar.  I had a chance to speak with him before the show about his process in creating the classic Disney villain.  I could tell in the short time I spoke with him that he was truly a remarkable artist, who had an innate understanding and appreciation of character and story, and a love of hand drawn animation, and the heart and warmth that it conveyed.

During the presentation, Tom interviewed Andreas as he sat before an easel and did an ink rendering of Scar.  There was a camera focused on him so the audience could see the entire process.  It was thrilling.

But not as thrilling as what happened later after the show.  I was in my dressing room taking off my makeup, when in came Tom Schumaker with Andreas.  Andreas had the sketch rolled up under his arm.  “Happy Birthday!” Tom said as Andreas handed me the onstage sketch, signed by the artist with the inscription, “For Michael.”  I was speechless.  I mumbled my thanks, and then sat down in wonder as I unrolled the sketch.  I was floating on air!

Tom and I…

Andreas and Syndee…

You know I couldn’t leave you without telling you what I ate. The post-show luncheon was catered with braised short rib and baked pomegranate salmon with a citrus salad, fingerling potatoes, and brussel sprouts.

For dessert there was a perfect raspberry and dark chocolate torte. Happy birthday to me, again.

After a couple glasses of wine, we were ready for our personal, guided tour of Walt Disney Studios. These studios are the only major film/animation studio not to run backlot tours to the general public, so this was very special. I can’t explain the pride I felt as we walked through the lot, learning about the company’s history.  It was the trippiest feeling, staring at a nondescript 1940’s era building, and then having our guide tell us the window on the third floor to the left was Walt Disney’s actual office.

The Disney Studios were built from the revenue from the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Below, the Team Disney building is sometimes called the “Seven Dwarfs Building”; the seven dwarfs hold up the roof of the building, an homage to their animated film, which provided Walt Disney with the money to purchase the Burbank lot.

I love the birds’ nest built into Dopey’s cheek and the bird droppings on Doc’s nose!

The Walt Disney Archives housed eras of TV and movie lore. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly extensive — from memorabilia to costumes to the record-holding 32 Academy Awards that Disney has won.

Annette Funicello’s Mickey Mouse Club costume!

The wardrobe door from Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.

My Oscar! A guy can dream, right?

Our tour guide shows us a photo of the “new technology” multi-plane camera Disney developed for Snow White back in the 1930s.

Awesome studio tour! Thanks to the Disney employees who walked us through the magic!

I’m filled with happiness and gratitude for Stephanie Bast and David Grillo who hosted me for a sweet and wonderful birthday dinner, and for the opportunity to be a part of  something bigger than myself.

You might also like:

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

George May 9, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Love this post so much! I have also seen Tom Schumacher speak at a Disney event and he’s really excellent. We can’t wait to for The Lion King to come back to LA.


Janeen May 9, 2013 at 5:55 pm

40th Birthdays are fabulous, and it looks like yours was no exception! Fun photos of the event and thanks for inside peek! Still enjoying all of your adventures. How is the Paleo diet going and all? I would like to hear how that goes during travel. Good luck! And Happiest of Birthdays!


ANGELIQUE May 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm



steve May 11, 2013 at 10:00 am

happy birthday! from the looks of it the best is yet to come. all the best.


joannemeredithsolomon May 11, 2013 at 10:36 am

kisses and happy 40th beauty.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: