For seven years actor Omari Tau has been traveling North America as Banzai, one of the trio of hyenas in Disney’s The Lion King. As the show makes its way to Vancouver this week we find out that, contrary to the character he plays, there is nothing remotely villainous about him.
California-born Omari Tau is no stranger to the road having moved around most of his life. Born in Sacramento, Tau attended high school in Dallas then on to Michigan State University for some classical training. He eventually found himself back in Texas, at the University of Houston, for more singing and music education.
It was in Houston that Tau first heard about an open call for the show. Having never seen Disney’s The Lion King he scraped together enough cash and attended a performance. Not only did Tau think he could do what he saw on stage that night, he was also sure he wanted to do it. Seven years later, Tau is still with the production.
Having moved around as much as he did before joining the show, Tau says “it’s no biggie” being a member of a touring company.
“I actually love meeting new people and checking out the various cities we go to,” says Tau. “We become like a family on the road – taking care of each other and experiencing the sights and sounds of the continent together. I’ve decided that no matter where you go, there are always people that you can enjoy.”
For Tau though, experiencing new places and people is also coupled with a desire to give something back to the communities they visit through the outreach programme he founded called Lions in the Library. Tau started the programme, to help combat illiteracy, through his background in music education and wanting to inspire young people through his love of children’s books.
“We particularly like to get into communities that may not get a chance to see our show but support what we’re doing. If we can inspire a few young people to pick up a book and get reading and enjoy it we’ve done more than give back, we’ve made an investment!”
(A Lions in the Library presentation is planned during the show’s Vancouver stop but details have not been announced. If you are interested in finding out more about a possible Lions in the Library show, visit http://www.lionsinthelibrary.com).
But it isn’t all about exploring and meeting new people or even giving back to the communities they visit – it is also a lot of hard work. While Tau laughed about it all being “chili cheese dogs and french fries”, in reality it means being at the gym or doing some pretty intense workout regimes incorporating things like P90X, Taebo and Insanity every day to keep up with the show demands.
And while keeping in shape helps with the huge technical aspects of a production like Disney’s The Lion King, Tau says that as actors they actually forget about the spectacle. According to Tau, after the the practicing, rehearsing, memorizing and safety discussions, it is a matter of getting back to the simple message of the story and “connecting on a human level with the audience in the space of a couple of hours”.
“Truly, we have to wrap ourselves up in the story telling and forget about the spectacle,” said Tau. “Sure there are elements that you have to be aware of as an actor, but ultimately we are there to tell a beautiful, moving and powerful story …”
For Tau it is in that connection with the audience that remain some of his most memorable moments on tour.
“The moments that really touch me spring from the audience,” he said. “It never fails that someone will be shocked, surprised or moved to tears by what we do. I will never forget the faces I see as I pass through the audience every night – the jaws agape, the tears streaming, and the sheer disbelief at what is happening around them”.
And if Disney’s The Lion King isn’t enough to keep him busy, as he and the cast settle in for their four week run at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Tau is also working on finally finishing his own album, writing a musical based on Joyce Carol Thomas’ The Gospel Cinderella and a composing a small operatic double-bill based on two Grimm fairy tales.
We’ll be following his progress at http://www.omaritau.com and will definitely be in the audience on opening night waiting for that connection.
The Lion King
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
13 July – 8 August 2010
Tickets are available through Ticketmaster online or by calling 604.280.4444.