by Michael Bowen & r & Larry Yando has played several title roles with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, but it's not as if he regards Simba's villainous uncle, Scar, as a mere cardboard cutout.
"For whatever reason," he says, "Disney has good villains. They're complex. Besides, I like 'damaged.' Whatever my history, or whatever I've done, I can walk that tightrope between dangerous and humorous. I know what it's like to live with those on either side."
The show's second scene, when the production's smallest shadow puppet appears -- a cute little five-inch mouse, just creeping playfully along -- presents the first opportunity to characterize Scar. It's what Yando's Scar does (and doesn't do) with that mouse that characterizes him -- even before he's ever said a word -- as mean-spirited and frustrated, both terrible and funny.
"I go back and forth from intellectual to animal in my character," says Yando. "I have two facades I can put on. People say, 'You seem so nice.' I have a theory about that: There are dark places that everyone has. And there are actors -- they may be good, or they may be great -- but they let it out when they go to that channel. It's not a bad thing, but a useful thing. It's not hard for me to go to that channel."
Both dangerous and humorous: "They're almost direct opposites, so people don't know what's coming," says Yando. "With young Simba, I have this thing I must deal with -- and he represents everything I despise and resent." But Simba is also Scar's rival for Mufasa's throne. "I'm always keeping that danger at bay, looking at the long term," Yando says.
Before the wildebeest stampede, when Scar is plotting against Mufasa (his own brother, and Simba's father), Scar tells Simba that he has a surprise in store. Simba asks, "Will I like the surprise?" Scar's wicked response -- "Oh, it's to die for" -- illustrates the dangerous/humorous line.
"That usually gets what I would call a sort of a repulsed laugh," says Yando. "If I hit it too hard, it's too much of a threat. If I go with a lighter touch -- well, it's hard with the amplification."
Most of Yando's choices for Scar were guided by the show's original director, Julie Taymor -- but Yando has inserted a couple of his own bits. In the reprise of "Be Prepared," Scar's exultation over achieving the throne, "They told me, 'There's a dance break here.' And I said, "Well, I'm in control here. I don't think I can just disappear.' So we worked out this thing where I'm off to the side with my henchmen, and I'm rocking out."
And just for emphasis, Yando does some shoulder scrunches in rhythm with the drumbeats. "I brought that to rehearsal, and Julie just loved it, so we kept it.
"And another thing I did in rehearsal -- when Young Simba is working on that little roar of his, Mufasa calls to him and he says, 'Oh, OK.' And I added" -- here Yando goes into a whimpering nasal voice, with sarcasm set to maximum -- "'Oh, OK,' you know, mocking him, and we kept that. In fact," he adds with a self-satisfied laugh, "I've heard that Scars in other shows are using that too."