Nick Cordileone as Timon and Ben Lipitz as Pumbaa in Disney's The Lion King

For Nick Cordileone, who plays the self-absorbed Timon in the touring production of Disney’s The Lion King, his Vancouver appearance this month will be a homecoming of sorts.

“I’m really looking forward to coming back to Vancouver,” says Cordileone from the current tour stop in Philadelphia. “Vancouver is actually where I made my debut with Disney’s The Lion King five years ago. We had rehearsed in Costa Mesa, but it was in Vancouver where nine of us made our premiere with the show.”

Becoming Timon

Cordileone’s road to Vancouver as Timon actually began sometime before, in a role that he had never imagined he would be playing.

“I had been doing a lot of non-musicals until The Lion King; a lot of classical plays and Shakespeare,’ he says. “When I originally got to New York City and heard all those big Broadway voices I knew it wasn’t necessarily my wheelhouse, and hadn’t even considered auditioning.”

Finding himself, ironically, as a reader during auditions for the show though, Cordileone was in a unique position to ultimately land the role of the meerkat with attitude.

“As a reader, I was asked by the casting director if this was something that I would be interested in, and for the next several months I got to play around with all kinds of roles,” he says. “I played Timon, Scar and even Nala as different people came in for auditions, and it all began to make more and more sense to me, and I realized it was something I would really love to do.”

Eventually getting the nod from director Julie Taymor herself, Cordileone found himself cast as Timon for the national touring company, despite having more experience in straight plays than with musicals.

“I was part of a resident ensemble in San Diego and we would do a musical at least once a year, but that was about it,” he admits.

Playing With Puppets

Same goes for his work with puppets which was somewhat limited up until being cast in a show that relies heavily on them.

“That is one of the great things about working for Disney,” he says. “They were looking for the relationship and energy between actor and the puppet more than any sort of perfect precision.”

Going on to say it took five to six weeks to get “show ready”, it was a slow process of introducing the puppet to the different elements of his performance.

“I would begin by working with the puppet in the mirror without scenes and songs, while at same time learning the scene work and music without puppet,” he says. “They then got folded all into one another and then you have all three plates spinning and it gets you to a place where you can tell the story well.”

In fact, it is the disparate parts of the performance – puppet, music and book – that has kept things interesting for Cordileone over the past five years.

“I’m still discovering things,” he says. “It really is an ongoing process, and never gets boring. It has to do with multiple intelligences being exercised at the same time which is really unique. It is a simple story, being told in such a unique way.”

Timon’s BFF

Playing the wise-cracking sidekick to Pumbaa, Cordileone has been playing opposite Ben Lipitz’s flatulent warthog since he began with the show.

“Ben has been with the show for fourteen years now,” says Cordileone. “I’m still very much a rookie compared to him.”

Playing best friends on stage, there is a theatrical imperative that Timon and Pumbaa have a chemistry together, and for Cordileone and Lipitz that friendship extends after the curtain falls.

“It would be very hard to trick to fool an audience into thinking we were best friends on stage if we didn’t have one offstage as well,” he laughs. “As they narrowed down people for the roles, the interplay between these two characters who are life-long friends was really important. They were looking for a spark between the two of us and we had it, and have kept it.”

Nick Cordileone plays Timon in the touring production of Disney's The Lion King
Nick Cordileone plays Timon in the touring production of Disney’s The Lion King

Family Life On The Road

A native of California who now calls New York City home, Cordileone spends much of his time on the road, but when he isn’t onstage playing in The Lion King he isn’t far from family, as his 13-year old daughter travels with him.

“She has been with me four years now,” he says. “In fact we’re doing some home schooling right now. I must say it is so much fun to be able to take her to all these cities in North America and visiting some of the places we are studying.”

With his wife teaching at New York University, her schedule allows for frequent visits as well.

“We’re definitely nomads, but the longest we’ve been away from each other is four to five weeks,” he says. “During the summer she has the freedom to come out on the road as well if she is not doing summer school.”

But even though he may not be with his wife as often as he might like, Cordileone says the members of the show rely heavily on each other.

“The touring family really is a family,” he says. “There are a lot of kids that are in the show itself or members of the cast and orchestra, and she is very involved with that group.”

Still his number one fan, Cordileone estimates that she has seen the show some fifty plus times over the years, although he does admit that as she gets older she isn’t as outwardly effusive about his performance.

“In her teen years she is definitely less vocal about my performance and the show,” he laughs again.

The Warm-up

As a five year veteran Cordileone has conducted countless interviews over the years so when asked if there was anything he has always wished that someone would ask him, he pauses for a moment before talking about the puppet department’s rather unusual warm-up routine.

“I think most people would be surprised to know that during our down time, between scenes and for warm-up we play very competitive games of ping-pong,” he says. “It is a fun way to focus our energy, work up a bit of sweat before we go out and sing ‘Circle of Life’.”

The group is so tied to their warm-ups that they leave nothing to chance, traveling with their own ping-pong table.

Can You Feel The Love Tonight

As for a memorable moment over the last five years, Cordileone points to some of the special autism performances that the group has given over the past half decade.

“We’ve done a few autism-friendly performances with a modified show where the high sensory stuff like sound cues and light cues are adjusted down. It really has been an amazing experience to share the show with an audience who might not get to see a show like this. We’re ready for just about anything and we have this wonderful communal experience together. It really is a gift for us to be able to do that.”

There is little doubt that at performances like that, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” takes on a whole new meaning.

Disney’s The Lion King plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (650 Hamilton St, Vancouver) from June 18 – July 12. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster online.

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