March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Actor set sights on mane role from start

The first time actor Andre Jackson saw the touring production of the “The Lion King” in Los Angeles in 2001, it was like looking into his own destiny. Well, not quite, but he did know he wanted to play the part of Simba, that noble, estranged cat at the heart of the play who wanders in the jungle before returning to reclaim his father’s throne after a magic monkey reminds him of his destiny.

While it would take him a few years of wandering, Jackson said he eventually got the call from Broadway, not to play the chief predator but a pretty distinguished prey: the high antelope, a role typically reserved for South African actors, because all the lines are in Zulu. “I am not South African, I’m from Arkansas,” Jackson said during a recent phone interview. “I had no idea what I was even going to be doing until I got to the show. My agent called, and I said, ‘Put me on the plane.”

After a two-week crash course, he was a functioning member of the Circle of Life, but he still had his sights set higher. “I was always peeping on stage to watch Simba and see what he was doing,” Jackson said.

In anticipation of claiming his rightful place on stage, Jackson prepared to take on the role as if it had been offered to him; about a year ago a spot with the touring production opened up, and it was. Now he’s touring the country as the lead in an incredibly popular show that continues to sell out houses across the country nearly 10 years in. It returns to The Wharton Center for a 32-day run starting this week.

“It’s been really great so far,” Jackson said. “It’s a role you can really sink your teeth into [we’re not sure if that pun was intended]. Every night there are new challenges, and I’m figuring things out and getting to make the role mine.”

One initial challenge was building up lion-like stamina, because Simba is all over the stage, running, jumping, cart wheeling and swinging from vines, which means Jackson adheres to a tight workout regimen. “That’s one of the requirements of being Simba they don’t tell you about,” Jackson said, laughing. “You have to stay in tip-top shape just to get through the show. Your body is totally exposed for the whole show as Simba. You really can’t afford to be flabby at all. That corset’s pretty tight. If I have one too many cheeseburgers, I feel it.”

Keeping that intricately beaded corset happy is important, because along with his “M.C. Hammer pants” and lion mask, it makes up the costume that allows Jackson to fully become a pouncing, roaring lion as opposed to say, a cowardly one. “It’s like wearing a piece of art,” he said. “You’re not out their looking ridiculous in some furry lion suit. I don’t know if you could pull it off if the costume wasn’t amazing. After all, I’m being a lion on stage.”

Off Broadway

With a huge blockbuster at the other end of town, it seems BoarsHead Theater couldn’t have picked a better time to take a swipe at Broadway’s sacred cows than this week, when it opens Gerard Alessandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway,” a musical satire with “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miz,” and the rest of the gang dead in its sights. Peppermint Creek’s Theatre Co.’s Chad Badgero Courtesy photo directs the show, which features musical direction by BoarsHead’s John Dale Smith.

7 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through April 4. 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing. $17-$35. (517) 484-7805. www. boarshead.org.

Dysfunctional fun

Expect tempers to flare and laughs to ensue when the Lansing Civic Players opens “Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will?” this weekend. The ensemble comedy, by Del Shore, tells the story of a dysfunctional Southern family, all back home as their dementia-suffering patriarch nears his last breath and can’t remember where he stashed his last will and testament.

8 p.m. Friday & Saturday and 2 p.m Sunday through March 29. Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing. $8-$15. (517) 484-9191. www.lansingcivicplayers.org.

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