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Madrid City in English
Saturday 25th of November 2017
Richard Lewington 1305 29th of April 2013 by editor 29th of April 2013
Photc by Richard Lewington
Performing with pride

The Madrid production of The Lion King has been running for more than 18 months, but how does an actor become involved in such a complex theatrical masterpiece? Richard Lewington talks to Wellington Nascimento Dos Santos—vulture and zebra

Walt Disney’s The Lion King is renowned for being theatre at its most spectacular. Whether an audience is enjoying a production in New York, Tokyo or London, it can carry them to the plains of Africa through its innovative, inspiring set and costume designs, and drawing on the continent’s wonderful rhythms.
    Wellington Nascimento Dos Santos, 27, from Brazil, is one of the dancers involved in the Madrid spectacle. Dos Santos and I first met two years ago whilst working in a nightclub in Tenerife. He was one of the stage dancers, and being 6ft 2ins tall and muscular, he stood out like a sore thumb against the sea of British tourists and expats. His stature could make you feel slightly intimidated, but his relaxed smile and endearing nature quickly put you at ease. “Why are you looking so happy?” I asked him towards the end of my time there. “I’ve been chosen to be in The Lion King!” he replied. Two years on, he is now fully relaxed in his new role, or roles, as a number of animals.
Stepping out
His story began twelve years ago, when he was 15 years old. He started dancing as part of the Bale Folclorico company in his hometown of Salvador de Bahia. “It was an interesting time for me because I always wanted to dance and decided to just get out there and do it!” he declares. Three years later, he moved abroad for the first time to Mallorca, where he was able to develop his stagecraft, but he was soon off to another island—Gran Canaria. There, he spent five years performing as part of the Maracatu Brazilian show under the guidance of choreographer Maximiliano Fierro.
    Fierro was so impressed by Dos Santos’s moves that he asked him to relocate to Tenerife to help teach dance, as well as to work in a Bollywood dance show. However, it was whilst in Tenerife in 2011 that his life changed. “My friend phoned me up really excited. I thought he’d won the lottery,” Dos Santos laughs. “He told me that he had heard about upcoming auditions for The Lion King which was set to add a Spanish version of the show in Madrid. He was determined I’d get a part! I soon applied and was invited to attend the audition.”
Trying out
“When I turned up, there were about 10,000 people in line—artists, singers and dancers. When it was my turn, I thought my audition went badly, and just put it down to experience. Watching the others Photo by Edgar Lopez perform so well didn’t exactly inspire me with hope.” A phone call shortly afterwards soon countered his opinion. “When I got the call telling me that I had been chosen to join a team of only 54, I thought it was a joke. Then, I was so happy and lost for words! Within weeks, I was flown to England where I met the rest of the cast for the first time. We just bonded instantly, but we all had to communicate in Spanish.
    “We were there to observe the London show and to get fitted for our costumes. Every single production around the world is exactly the same. The costumes, music, set design, even the timing,” he continues. “The only thing that differs is the language, and of course, the cast.”
Birds and beasts
The real work began when he came to Madrid. He trained for two months from 10am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, learning the songs, choreography and movements intensively. “A couple of people left because they couldn’t hack it. Even now, we work six days per week; we train in the mornings and then perform at night. We do two shows on Fridays and Saturdays and we only have Mondays off.” Dos Santos plays a number of animals, such as the vulture and zebra, plus a solo bird, and a swallow. “The hard part is to become the animal, to give life to them,” he explains, “to act in the way in which they would act.”
    Backstage, the cast get on well together and share a lot of humour, although sometimes there are surprises. “The other week Cristiano Ronaldo popped backstage to thank us for putting on a great show!” grins Dos Santos, “but that’s what it’s all about; the satisfaction of putting smiles on people’s faces. We go out there psyched up, ready to give it our best and that’s what makes The Lion King so energetic!”
    He’s the second person to appear on stage as the show begins, and admits that taking on so many roles is a massive responsibility, not least in helping to set the scene. “I’ve been doing the show for a year and a half now. I’m really happy with my work, as a person and a performer. It’s like a school but really professional at the same time. We’re always learning something—responsibility, punctuality, discipline, and respect; and I think that goes hand in hand with the moral of The Lion King story.”

The Lion King is currently running at the Teatro Lope de Vega, Gran Vía, 57 (Metro: Gran Vía). See www.elreyleon.es

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