Fred Hemminger is the general manager of the Walt Disney Grand Theatre, the 1,200-seat Broadway-style performance venue at Shanghai Disney Resort Disney Town, which will host the world premiere of the Mandarin-language version of The Lion King when the resort will open in June. Shanghaî Daily did an interview of Hemminger about the show and here are some excerpts:
Since its premier on Broadway some 19 years ago, The Lion King has become the highest grossing musical of all time in New York, as well as one of the world’s most popular stage shows. More than 80 million audience members have already seen The Lion King in theaters around the world.
Above: the Walt Disney Grand Theater as shown on the new Shanghaî Disneyland map.
The new Mandarin production promises to bring the excitement and artistry of the smash Broadway production to Chinese viewers in their native language. Those involved behind the scenes have already been swept away by the show’s magic.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Disney, but I never thought my love of theater and Disney would come together,” said Fred Hemminger.
Hemminger has been with Disney for seven years. Prior to coming onboard, he worked on a number of Broadway productions, including as company manager to The Lion King.
The opportunity to go to Shanghai came along during the show’s North American tour. “They were looking for someone with experience in the show to take part in its Shanghai project.
Above: Fred Hemminger, general manager of the Walt Disney Grand Theatre.
A big part of his work so far has been recruiting local talent. Over the past year, Hemminger and his team have been auditioning on-stage performers, backstage crew members and local artisans who have what it takes to honor The Lion King’s original vision in a way that is distinctly Chinese.
Of course, the major point of departure for this new production is the show’s language.
“If you’ve seen the show on Broadway, you are going to see the exactly same show here, but everything in English will be in Mandarin,” explained the manager. “However, ‘Hakuna Matata’ will still be ‘Hakuna Matata’.”
Certain features of the show’s humor will also be localized to appeal to Chinese viewers.
“In America, Timon and Pumbaa have Brooklyn accents, but here that doesn’t really work,” Hemminger said. “So physically you will be seeing the same show, but adapting to local sensibilities, which is also a big part of what we’re doing, especially when it comes to the jokes.”
While the team is still hiring cast members, the manager says the cast list is almost complete. Hemminger and his team held auditions not just in Shanghai and Beijing, but also in locales as diverse as Wuhan (Hubei Province), Chengdu (Sichuan Province), Shenyang (Liaoning Province), Taipei, Macao, Hong Kong and so on.
“We’re still auditioning for kids. So if you have a child, age 8 to 11, who loves music and performance, come to us,” the manager added.
Located in the resort’s main shopping, dining and entertainment area, the theater is adjacent to Shanghai Disneyland. This means that audience members will not have to purchase admission to the theme park to see The Lion King.
“It’s a part of Disneytown, so you can have dinner, go shopping, and see THE LION KING. You are not required to have a park ticket for the show,” Hemminger said. “It’s a separate ticketing experience, but they complement each other very well.”
As the manager also explained, this is the first time The Lion King will be staged so close to a Disney theme park.
“It’s actually exciting to have two such wonderful things from Disney side-by-side, where you can experience both in one trip,” Hemminger said. “I hope Chinese audiences enjoy the show. The audience always helps make the experience each time a little bit different, that’s what I love about theater.”
At the time of its opening, the Mandarin production will mark the 9th concurrent worldwide production of The Lion King.
Pictures: copyright Disney
Text: copyright Shanghaî Daily