“We are all connected in the great circle of life.”
This quote from Disney’s “The Lion King” is true for the masterminds behind the musical event that took place on Clubhouse this past December.
After stumbling across one another in various Clubhouse rooms like Bomani X’s “Cotton Club,” it was social networking fate that placed Noelle Chesnut Whitmore (Director/Executive Producer), Bomani X (Musical Director), Kam DeLa (Musical Director), Mir Harris (Nala), Chris Glover (Mufasa), and Myles Grier (Simba) in the presence of one another.
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AfroTech was able to sit down with the creatives responsible for “The Lion King” musical on Clubhouse — a live rendition of the cult classic which included a 40-member cast, choir, live instrumentation, and to top it all off, a seamlessly orchestrated PTR (pull to refresh) imagery that matched up with every scene in the show — to life.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
AfroTech: ‘The Lion King’ is filled with some of the best music of all time! What was your favorite part about serving as a musical director on a production like this?
Kam DeLa: One of my favorite moments was being able to do this in our own way which in turn led to the addition of one of my favorite songs in ‘The Lion King’ franchise, ‘He Lives in You.’
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The song is only featured in the musical and ‘The Lion King II,’ but not the original film. Having that kind of creative power to add that in there was really special for me because the song just means a lot and has a really big message of showing people that your ancestors and the people you look up to are always with you and looking down — guiding and helping you by breathing power into what you’re doing.
AfroTech: Speaking of breathing power into what you’re doing, tell me how being a part of a production like this reignited a spark within you that may have gotten lost in the tumultuous year of 2020?
Myles Grier: It was really just the organic start of it. There was really no pressure of ‘Oh, this is going to be my next big break.’ It was just something we allowed to happen, organically, and we did it for the joy of bringing something joyful to the end of a rough year.
This was more of a therapeutic process because Simba’s life is very similar to my own and losing a father and having to remember who you are.
AfroTech: That’s amazing! How did you manage to prepare for a role like this that you’d never done before?
Chris Glover: For the most part, it was just me watching the movie and letting myself sit in it. The story of ‘The Lion King’ resonates with me on a personal level because I lost my dad at a young age and I felt it with my father. So, I tried to tap into my emotions like, ‘Alright, you gotta be the dad that you were missing all this time.’
Working alongside Myles [Simba] was also very helpful because we would run lines with one another, and as a professionally trained actor he would give me tips like, ‘Try your breathing here’ or ‘Try to put the emotions behind it here.’
The whole point of all of this for me, personally, was to recognize my own talent and my own ability and being able to do this.
AfroTech: What are the odds that you two would share similar stories in the loss of your fathers making the whole meaning of the film just hit differently. What are some ways to ensure that other creatives won’t be left out of the picture when it comes to using our own stories to drive us to create innovative productions like this?
Noelle Chestnut Whitmore: I think we’re learning as we go. One of the biggest things for us and myself is just to maintain the narrative of how this came to be and to maintain the ownership. Obviously, we don’t own Disney IP [intellectual property]. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about the magic of what happened authentically and organically and the time and commitment that was put into this.
AfroTech: In regards to the commitment of owning and maintaining our own narrative, how can we continue to do that in spaces like Clubhouse or even Hollywood?
Mir Harris: I would offer that, in my observation, we have not been able to tell our own stories to ourselves.
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We’ve told ourselves things to survive, things to get by, things to endure, and things to be resilient and persistent. But in reality, unless we start getting more courageous to tell our actual truths, we’re not going to get the freedom we aspire to have.
We have to get courageous in that sense. We have to restore more thought leaders and people who are not discouraged just because they see something in the space that looks or sounds familiar. We are each the magic and that’s something that you can’t make up.
AfroTech: You came through with a word! With Clubhouse being fresh, yet still having those dark days like any other social media app, what is it like being a part of the joy that the app has to offer?
Bomani X: I literally just got on the app as something to do during quarantine and the pandemic and Clubhouse just became a safe space for me and my passions.
Seeing how this journey and all of the touchpoints in how I met everyone in this room is all about how some of the little things I may have done has impacted others, connected people in certain ways, and inspired other ideas just feels really good.
I’m super gracious for all of the connections and friendships I’ve made — it’s definitely saved my life in a lot of ways.
AfroTech: We love to see it. Now that you guys have managed to pull off something of this magnitude, what’s next for the dream team?
Mir Harris: My ultimate goal is to teach through entertaining and to find more ways to do that and teach folks just how to be human.
Noelle Chestnut Whitmore: I’m not interested in forcing anything to keep up with the Joneses. We want to do work that continues to stretch us, creating new realms and ways that we can continue to blow people’s minds and make them excited.
We can’t share everything, but we’re super excited about some of the things that we’re working on. What I can say is that it’s a combination of some of your classics, some original content, and maybe even anything that comes in between.
To keep up with these amazing Black creatives, follow them on Instagram:
Noelle Chestnut Whitmore: @noellechestnutwhitmore
Mir Harris: @meremir
Bomani X: @iambomanix
Chris Glover: @_comethruclutch
Kam DeLa: @kam_dela
Myles Grier: @mylesgrier