By Ariele Vaccaro
Rashada Dawan recalls a priceless memory. She is only 8-years-old, and is joining her father at a movie theater to watch a new animated Disney film called “The Lion King”.
She remembers tearing up during an infamous scene, when the lion cub, Simba, finds his father, Mufasa, dead and tries futily to wake him from an endless sleep.
“The Lion King” hasn’t been in theaters since the mid 1990’s.
Nevertheless, this is a memory that Dawan shares with her own 9-year-old daughter.
The Chicago native brings her daughter to see “The Lion King”, just like her father did for her.
However, Dawan isn’t sitting with the audience this time. Rather, she’s on stage, singing, dancing, and acting in the touring musical production.
Dawan plays Shenzi, the sassy, sarcastic female leader among the villian, Scar’s, three hyena cronies. She and the rest of the show’s cast will be stopping in Milwaukee from Nov. 11 to Dec. 7.
Dawan has been touring with “The Lion King” for a little more than three years, but this will be her first performance in Milwaukee, but she’s looking forward to being in the Midwest again.
This isn’t Dawan’s first time on stage. The singer and actress has been performing since her high school days, when she starred in Dream Girls as main character Deena Jones.
By then, Dawan had already discovered her passion for singing.
In fifth grade, a teacher asked her to exhibit her singing prowess at a parent teacher conference. She recalls “being so nervous and staring at the floor”.
Despite her apprehension, however, she admits that the experience changed her for life.
“It awakened something in me that I didn’t even know I had,” said Dawan.
After that, her passion for singing and music only grew.
She admired singers like Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle. She saw her first musical, Jelly’s Last Jam, based on the life of an innovative jazz musician.
These days, she gets to speak to kids from across the country with the same aspirations she had as a child, and that’s one of her favorite parts of her job.
“I remember being that kid in a classroom,” Dawan said.
She talks to children in between performances. Often she’s giving eight per week.
“It’s no easy gig. That’s for sure,” said the 32-yearold.
Dawan knows someone that would agree with her.
“I tried that one time, I don’t have to do that no more,” said Whoopie Goldberg of musical performance, who plays Dawan’s character Shenzi in the 1994 Disney film.
Dawan was able to meet her once.
“She really inspires me,” said Dawan of the actress. “I had no idea that I would be playing her character.”
Goldberg inspires Dawan so much so that the performer called Goldberg’s manager once to arrange to speak with her.
Dawan got her wish, and received some of the best advice she’d ever gotten from Goldberg: “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.”
After three years with the Las Vegas tour of “The Lion King”, it hasn’t stopped being fun for Dawan.
She looks forward to the good times that come with touring the show, like doing push-ups to get pumped up before a show with the actor who plays Rafiki, Simba’s bamboo guide.
For some actors, playing a character with a strong personality, such as Shenzi, might be intimidating. For Dawan, it’s a matter of looking at what she and the strong-willed heyena have in common.
“I can identify with her leadership skills,” said Dawan. “She’s in control of her crew.”
It’s a change from what she said is her usual role of the damsel in distress.
Throughout the show, Dawan will perform several songs.
Her favorite, however, is “Circle of Life”. She admires its honesty and ability to illustrate transient nature of life as well as the human experience.
“Its ironic because we’re playing animals on stage,” Dawan noted.
She said that even on stage she can sense the excitement that audience members of all ages feel when the song begins: “It just touches everyone.”
Attendees to the musical can expect this and more when Dawan and the rest of “The Lion King” cast takes the stage beginning Tuesday, Nov. 11.
After it’s time in Milwaukee, the cast will head south, to San Antonio, TX to perform the show there.