Simba and Nala's Dance of Love

by Michael Bowen & r & In the animated Lion King movie, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" has cutesy lions cavorting in the jungle. In Julie Taymor's staging, it's transformed into a stunning dance sequence that doesn't stay rooted to the ground -- and keeps the young lovers on opposite sides of the stage.

As Nala and Simba, Ta'Rea Campbell and Wallace Smith are turned away from one another, deep in thought. Three pairs of dancers depict their emotions.

"The ballet is friendship," says Campbell, referring to the number's two earth-bound dancers in body stockings. "And there's playful love, the early stages of romantic love," she says, interpreting one of the two couples above the stage. That third couple really seem into each other, Ta'Rea. What stage of love do they represent? She smiles, then volunteers that "One cast member says they're 'pollinating love flowerly.'"

In Taymor's feminist reimagining of the movie, Nala plays a more prominent part. "She has to go fight for the whole community," says Campbell. "She can't live there anymore -- she can't let it deteriorate" the way it has under Scar's rule. "Shadowland," then, "is her declaration that she is returning for her people."

And fighting for them. "When Scar tries to take advantage of Nala, she has almost nothing left," says Campbell. "Scar almost drives her out -- but then her feistiness basically allows her to say, 'I won't let you get to me before I get to you.'"

As Simba, Smith's big solo is "Endless Night," which begins in despair over his father's absence: "Whenever I call your name / You're not anywhere." Remarkably, Smith sings the opening phrases in a crouch -- "it's difficult, but your body gets used to it," he says -- and then does a lot of running up and down the raked stage. "Physically, I've got to get to the same place as all of [Simba's] emotions," he says.

Helped by Smith's athletic performance, the "Endless Night" gradually turns toward hope. "With the chorus singing behind me ["I know that the clouds must clear / and that the sun will shine"] -- you could be at any place in your life, and to hear that being sung by a group of people -- that's such an encouragement," says Smith. "I've heard about 10 or 20 different interpretations of that song. It moves people spiritually."

He needs that kind of encouragement and energy -- because after the next scene, Simba is right back onstage, feeling the love tonight with Nala.

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