“Lion King was the first cassette tape I ever bought with my birthday money,” says actor Jelani Remy, who now plays the role of adult Simba in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. “I would go through it as every character. I was in love with it. To be able to do it now, that’s crazy.”
The Lion King marks Remy’s Broadway debut, having joined the show in July 2015. But prior to that, Remy played Chad Danforth in the national tour of Disney’s High School Musical and was part of the Las Vegas company and then the national touring company of The Lion King. “I started as the back legs of the rhinoceros, so I was in the ensemble and then was a swing, so I kind of grew up with the show,” says Remy.
Now playing the king of Pride Rock on Broadway, Remy sings through the songs he’s used to rock the audition room in the video above, and gives his best audition advice below:
The national tour of High School Musical was your first big gig. What did you sing to book that job?
Jelani Remy: “Magic to Do.” It was one of the first roles I ever got to develop, and sort of understand, and I just fell in love with the music. I love Stephen Schwartz, and I love Ben Vereen—he’s a big inspiration to me. So to be able to embody anything that he does is a privilege and an honor. That song is fun, it’s inviting, it’s warm, it’s a little sexy; there’s many aspects that make it a good audition choice to sort of show off personality and a little vocal flavor.
What do you look for overall in an audition song?
I think showing diversity, showing color, showing personality, something that really showcases your heart, as well. Something that makes people smile to leave a little imprint of you on their day.
What other songs fit that bill and are in your book?
“Marry Me” from The Rink, that’s in there for sure. Some Stevie Wonder’s in there, Motown is in there, some Smokey Joe’s Café is in there, some “Over the Rainbow,” that classic staple is in there for sure. I sometimes like gender-benders. I have “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” I have done “All That Jazz” before. Just something that’s really going to leave an impression.
Sometimes casting directors want a 16-bar cut. What is your best advice for accomplishing a lot with just a little?
Understand the piece you are singing. Understand it and emotionally relate it. That way, once you have the 16-bar cut, you know that’s 16 bars of your heart going out there. They want to see heart; they don’t want carbon copies.
What did you sing to book The Lion King?
The first song I sang was “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yeseterday” by Boyz II Men. And they did not care. [Laughs.] They said, “Great, can you sing ‘Endless Night’?” which I happened to know because I did that song at Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Conservatory when I was 15.
Is there a song that you love and have always wanted to sing at an audition, but hasn’t been right for any role or show you’ve tried out for so far?
“Under the Sea” [from The Little Mermaid]. It’s tricky [for an audition]. You don’t really get to show your own personality. You have to commit to Sebastian.
For more exclusive features and interviews celebrating The Lion King’s 20th anniversary, go to Playbill.com/LionKing.
Accopmaniment provided by Logan Culwell-Block.