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Tony Freeman talks about 22 years of iconic characters in THE LION KING

THE LION KING is a long-running theatre classic at this point, bringing innovative storytelling to the beloved animated movie. Pride rock has come to Broadway San Diego through September 11th and talented performer Tony Freeman, who has performed in various roles in this show for 22 years brings Timon to life on the national tour. Freeman chats about the show, what it’s like covering a variety of iconic characters, and his favorite moment for the audience to experience.

When Tony Freeman originally auditioned for THE LION KING it was for the role of Timon, but instead, he became everyone’s favorite uptight royal advisor, the hornbill Zazu. Yet, if the show has taught us anything, it’s that everything comes around in the end and now Freeman finds himself as Timon opposite a former Timone performer.

“When I started 22 years ago playing Zazu on broadway our Timon was a guy named John Brady, and he’s now playing Pumbaa beside me! The circle of life isn’t just in the show but backstage as well.”

Freeman’s character journey with the show has taken him from Zazu, which he played for a few years before learning the role of Scar, by the time he had been with the show for eleven years he found himself as the standby for four major characters – Zazu, Scar, Timon, and Pumbaa. As a standby, he was at the theatre every night and could go on for those characters at any moment if needed. Freeman says that the variety of the characters was a fun challenge, especially the different types of movement and puppetry for each character.

“It’s fun to play the bad guy! As an actor, the fun thing is to do all the different things, and do the funny roles and make the audience laugh, and the scary guy that everyone is so glad when you die – it’s fun to have that variety.

The style of puppetry is different for all four roles which is a challenge but is also what makes it fun.”

The duality of the performance as both an actor and through the puppet means the actors have to focus to make sure the simultaneous performances complement and enhance instead of potentially being a distraction to the audience.

“We have to play the role too, so we’re playing the role and we’re also playing the show through the puppet since it’s the character too. It’s a double event as Julie Taymor used to say, the puppet is playing the part but the puppeteer is playing the part too.

I’m doing all these things simultaneously and you’re playing the part, and channeling it through your puppet. So if the audience looks at you instead of the puppet you want them to get the story and not distract from the puppet. The puppet is the main communication device, but the audience should be able to look at either and get the story.”


Freeman says that after all of this time, both on Broadway and on tour always finds the opening number to be a standout moment that he is excited to have the audience experience and is a reminder of how lucky he is to be a part of this show.

“I just love “The Circle Of Life”- it’s one of the greatest opening numbers ever. When I was Zazu, he opens the show by running down the aisle, but as an actor, you’re watching the audience watching the show and I could see people wiping tears out of their eyes, and the excitement and it makes me feel like I am so lucky to be doing a show like this.

I’ve done the show for 22 years, but watching the audience’s excitement is what makes it so wonderful for me.”

How To Get Tickets

THE LION KING is playing at Broadway San Diego at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Through Sept. 11. For ticket and show time information go to

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