I caught Thom’s thrilling turn as Scar last year and he is perfectly suited to the villainous role, having starred on Broadway as the seductive and cruel whip wielding Captain Ahrab in Twyla Tharp/Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. I was struck by Thom’s resemblance to a samurai, no doubt inspired by THE LION KING director Julie Taymor’s vast body of work with Asian theatrical art forms. It takes a village to transform the Broadway vet, who has also appeared on the Great White Way in The Man of La Mancha, Titanic and La Cage Aux Folles.
Disney’s THE LION KING celebrated its first anniversary on the Las Vegas Strip at Mandalay Bay on Saturday, May 15, 2010, and this production is Thom’s LION KING debut. The Las Vegas Company features an international cast with performers who have been in THE LION KING productions all over the world, including Holland, Paris, Shanghai, Toronto, Australia, Los Angeles, London, South Africa, Taipei, and New York. There are nine natives of South Africa in the cast and three of the ensemble members are from Los Vegas. More than 500,000 people have seen the world-renowned show in its debut year.
Within nine weeks of its Las Vegas opening, Disney’s THE LION KING broke the Mandalay Bay box office record previously held by MAMMA MIA! and then went on to break its own record four more times throughout the year. Las Vegas Magazine said THE LION KING “… transcends cultural boundaries and the limits of the imagination,” while CityLife called it “…flat-out brilliant.” THE LION KING also was recently named the city’s “Best Show” by the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in its annual “Best of Las Vegas” awards.
I had a backstage pass to document Thom’s remarkable transformation into a Kabuki styled lion in leather for my newly created Lia Chang Asian Pacific American Theater Photography Portfolio for the Library of Congress.
5:45pm We arrive at the Mandalay Bay theatre.
6:15pm Thom normally meetS up with his makeup artist Laura Sill in his dressing room that he shares with Patrick Kerr, who portrays “Zazu.”
6:30pm As Laura works her magic transforming the Japanese American actor into a lion of the Savannah, she explains that The Lion King director Julie Taymor and makeup artist Michael Curry are the creative forces for each of the distinctive looks of the characters.
7pm His dresser Craig West rigs him into his leather costume, which weighs in at over 50 lbs. Laura puts on the wig and touches up his makeup. His mask, a mechanical lion-face headpiece that can be raised and lowered via a hidden remote control, creating the illusion of a cat “lunging” during his confrontations with his brother Mufasa and the Hyenas, is the final costume piece to be attached.
As the half hour to showtime was announced, I was whisked away by Meghan Baker, the PR person for the show. I heard a goodbye across the dark stage. It was Thom bidding us farewell as he went to warm up in the theater before the audience filtered in.
Equally at home in the musical theater as well as on the legit stage, Thom has been on and off Broadway and on tour in Miss Saigon, Search and Destroy, Cymbeline, Rashomon, Baba Goya, In a Pig’s Valise, As Thousands Cheer, Othello, Ivanov, Howard Barker’s A Hard Heart, playing opposite Kathleen Chalfant and starring opposite Charles Busch in Shanghai Moon. Last year, he received The Enquirer Acclaim Award, which celebrates the best of Cincinnati theatre, for his turn as a frustrated Korean immigrant widower in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Julia Cho’s Durango which opened the 2008 fall season.
Click below to watch the video of Thom’s remarkable transformation.
Thom recently wrote about “Life as Uncle Scar” as a guest columnist for Robin Leach’s column in The Las Vegas Sun, which you can read here.
Disney’s THE LION KING is performed Monday-Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday performances at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets for Disney’s THE LION KING at Mandalay Bay are available for $64, $86 and $113.50. VIP packages, which include premium seating, a complimentary souvenir program and a complimentary VIP show merchandise item, are available for $168.50. Taxes are included in all prices. Tickets can be purchased at all Las Vegas Ticketmaster locations; through the box office at (702) 632-7580 or Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000; and online via www.lionkinglasvegas.com or www.ticketmaster.com. Reservations for groups of 15 or more can be purchased through (877) 632-7505 or LionKingSales@mandalaybay.com.
For more information, please visit www.lionkinglasvegas.com.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2010 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at email@example.com.
Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Lia Chang Portfolio Features Portraits of New York Chinatown After 9/11 in “Post 9/11”: Commemorative Display at Library of Congress Asian Reading Room, 8/30-9/15
Goodman Theatre World Premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Broadway Bound “Chinglish” Scores 5 Jeff Award Nods
Photos: Rick Shiomi Checks out Performing Arts Playwrights Series in the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection of Library of Congress; Attends “Asian American Plays for a New Generation” Book Signing in NY
Lia Chang Theater Portfolio at Library of Congress Features Photos of Thom Sesma’s Makeup Transformation as Scar in Disney’s The Lion King Las Vegas, Robert Lee and Leon Ko’s Heading East Starring BD Wong, David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish, and Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri’s Bakwas Bumbug!
Crafting a Career
Backstage at The Lion King Las Vegas with Thom Sesma
Thom Sesma as Scar in The Lion King at Mandalay bay
Thom Sesma, Peter Kim and Andrew Cristi star in Durango
Spotlight on Shanghai Moon’s Thom Sesma
Thom Sesma Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi
Thom Sesma in The Epic Theatre Ensemble’s A HARD HEART
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Master Chef Martin Yan at the 5th Annual Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the USA Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.
As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden. Lia currently plays Nurse Lia on “One Life to Live”. She has appeared in Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and “New York Undercover”.
Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.
Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, VIBE, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre, Broadwayworld.com, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle, Timeout.com, Villagevoice.com, Playbill.com, Theatermania.com, thelmagazine.com, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for AsianConnections.com. She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.