Who plays Mustafa in the LION KING
Was Led to act, by Destiny’s Hand

Exclusive Interview by Iride Aparicio

Pictures by: Joan Marcus

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Engineering is a prestigious profession, it was the magic of the make-believe world that enticed DIONNE RANDOLPH, to give up his planned career to become an actor.

“What is interesting is that I went to school to study math and sciences,” DIONNE tells CULTURAL BILINGUAL in an interview,  “so it was really luck who brought me to acting because I never really thought I could be an actor per se.” he continues.

“I wanted to become an astronaut. Since childhood I always wanted to work with NASA  because my dad is a computer engineer and he had worked with NASA before. So in l994, while I was still at school,  I went  to  the engineering entrance fair in Atlanta (where he is from) because I knew that    the Walt Disney Company was there looking for engineers for their Summer Program in Florida, for their Imaginer Department which is the department that creates shows and NASA.

I got the internship and went to Florida and while I was there, I got to see the Disney Company doing what it does: creating magic through music and entertainment. I just never knew that could be a profession, but I said to myself,  I think that I will try this job; I tried it and here I am twenty years later still working with Disney. I never went back to school.”

:CWB: How did your internship as an engineer led to acting?

D.R  When I was in Florida working at the Disney Company a producer walked by and heard me speaking and he asked me if I had done voice overs,”  I said no, but he invited me to come to their recording studio later on that day and record something. That’s how I got into the business.  I recorded a voice-over and after that I started recording voice overs for shows and then I got into radio station at Disney World in Florida and it started snowballing.  Next thing I knew was doing regional shows and then Broadway shows. “

And it is on a Broadway show that DIONNE (pronounced dee-ón) is now in  San Francisco  impersonating the lion king Mustafa, the father of Simba,  in the African Jungle populated by the animals-shaped puppets of  JULIE TAYMOR , in the travelling version of the musical  THE LION KING, which as part of the 2012-2013 series of SHN. opened on November 1st at the Orpheum Theatre in this city.

How DIONNE began singing was another story.

D.R. I was working on speaking parts while I was still working on the radio as a joke I sang “happy birthday” to one of my friends there  and somebody told me “You sound like you can keep a tune, have you sang before? I said no, but I can try it.”

DIONNE laughs.

“I still remember my first audition.  I did not have a resume and I did not have a picture (required from the actors auditioning for the show) and when they asked me what I was going to sing I sang “Happy Birthday.” I was hired to sing in the chorus. That was my first professional job.”

CWB: Let’s talk about THE LION KING

Lion King 1
Opening Scene from THE LION KING  © DISNEY

CWB:  How is it for you an actor, to represent a lion, every night?

D.R. One thing the creator of the show, JULIE TAYMOR,  did that I think it is absolutely brilliant, and part of the reason why the show is still running around the world, is that she said that she was not going to use fur in the lions and nothing like it was supposed to be.  Everything in the show was to be based on emotion. We do not look like the real animals look like. For Mufasa (the character he plays) to become Mufasa I have to think I am a father to Simba, who happened to be the king of this land, and then the moments when Mufasa may get mad or angry or needs to show aggression against the hyenas in the story, the mask that he wears (painted on the actor’s face) will show his aggression. But there is no growling, no walking on all fours (trying to imitate an animal) it is all implied, but it works beautifully, because you know he is a lion but by acting like a human what you (the public) see is a father and his child.

Everybody in this show (where actors represent animals)  have specific movement in this show which she (JULIE) created brilliantly. What I learned, when I was learning my part, is that Mufasa is heavy, because lions are heavy cats so I need to look heavy and when I am in my costume I need to move as a 400 pounds lion. So I needed to learn how to move: slowly and to take every step with a purpose. If I do that, a heavy lion comes across when you see the show.

CWB: How did you prepare for your role?

D.R. When I first auditioned for the show, I had a different concept of what Mufasa should be.  When you go to an audition of the show, you have to think of all these things that you need to do in your audition and what I learned is that in professional theatre, you really can’t prepare for anything, because you have to be what they (the Casting people) are looking for. So you need to be able to forget everything you know about theatre and say I think this is what they want so this is what I am going to try.

My best preparation from my role, was my father.  I based a lot of my Mufasa on him, because he is really a Mufasa: a very loving father.  He can be very strict but it was always for our good. He was sure that the household was all together and he did not speak a lot, but when he spoke, everybody listened. So when I was preparing my Mufasa I was thinking, I need to stand like this, I need to speak like this and when I did it I was told, you can’t do that. You have to be a real person on stage. You cannot have a pre-conceive idea of your character, that’s the thing.

 I opened Mufasa, seven years ago, and I wish I could go back to those cities now because I know so much more about the role now that I play it completely differently that when I first started it. Now I know what the role asks for and demands. 

Looking back at my life. I feel very happy.  I am very proud of my parents. As a kid I always revel against them but now I see that they raised us right.
My parents are married, I am still married, my two older sisters one has a law degree the other is a teacher, I am doing this now. I know I could not be here, could not be who I am now  if it had not been for them. I am very humble.  I feel very blessed to be in this industry. I am not a great singer or a great actor but I love what I do.  I think that’s what people like about me, that I am very real.

To end our interview he adds: “When I was playing in Atlanta, where I went to school, one of  my college professor came to the theatre to see the LION KING and  after the show, we had a chance to talk so I asked him: should I go back to school, should I finish? And he said: “Dionne,  remember that in the entertainment world nothing comes around all the time.  School will always be here, but what you are doing is so unique and it only does come once in a life time.  Continue doing what you are doing.”

Lion King 2
Hunt Scene from THE LION KING            © DISNEY

THE LION KING is now playing at the ORPHEUM THEATRE 1192 Market St. in San Francisco. For information and to order tickets go to http://www.shnf.com or  call 888 746-1799