When the UK and Ireland Tour of Disney's The Lion King opens for previews this weekend at one Jamaican will be stepping into the spotlight.
Dancer Tovah Marie Bembridge is part of the cast of the hit musical, joining an elite group of locals including Kerry Ann Henry, Jermaine Rowe and Candice Morris, who have all been part of the UK cast of the musical originally choreographed by Jamaican Garth Fagan.
Bembridge decided the give the auditions a shot earlier this year when Disney's scouts came hunting for talent. She says she was encouraged by her dance teacher, former dancer and choreographer with the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), Arsenio Andrade, so she figured "Why not?".
For Bembridge, who started dancing at age 3, the audition process was long and arduous.
"To begin, we are taught a piece of choreography testing our technical competence. After performing this in groups, the first set of eliminations take place. We then learn an excerpt from the show itself. The females learn the
beginning of The Lioness Chant which depicts the lionesses hunting their prey. After we perform this the second cut takes place. The remaining few are then given cheetah walks, gazelle walks and gazelle leaps to do individually across the floor. Finally, we each sing a song of our choice for the musical director," she explains.
Having been in the UK for the past few months, Bembridge describes the experience of getting together with a multi-cultural cast as amazing.
"There are members from South Africa, France, Holland, Jamaica, Trinidad, Japan, Cuba, Germany, Brazil and more. It's great being a part of such an explosion of cultures. Also, having seen the production both in New York and in London it has been very interesting to see how everything: lighting, sound,
costumes, scenic design, puppets, machinery and the characters, come together to make the show the spectacle that it is."
With opening night steadily approaching, Bembridge and her castmates are in rehearsals for six days a week. This involves separate studios for dancing, singing and acting. Having learned all the elements separately they have moved into full technical and dress rehearsals.
"The roles I play change depending on the scene. My track is a gazelle track, but I am also a lioness, hyena, a flirty plant and more," says Bembridge.
Contracted to perform in Lion King for a year, the young dancer who has danced with the NDTC, Tony Wilson's Junior Dance School, Norma Spence's Ballet Centre, University Dance Society and Junior Dance Department of the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts, says she may stay on longer.