Q&A with Sasha Caicedo: Puppets, singing and the emotions of the musical The Lion King

Arturo hilario | El Observador
Sasha Caicedo is the cheetah puppeteer and dancer in the cast of The Lion King, which will be at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts August 4-21, 2022. Photo Credit: The Lion King / Broadway San Jose

If you close your eyes and think of the classic Disney movie The Lion King, you might hear the drums, see the animals packs gathering to watch the lion cub Simba being lifted into the sky by Rafiki, or hear Timon and Pumba sing about friendship. It’s iconic.

The Lion King musical has been on Broadway for 24 years, garnering accolades and fans around the world in 90 cities since its premiere in 1997. The musical is as memorable as the film, evoking similar feelings with a unique aesthetic and thunderous live music, in a manner befitting a live audience.

Sasha Caicedo is an actress from Miami, Florida, who is currently part of the touring production of the musical, coming to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts August 3-21.

We recently spoke with the actress about The Lion King and how she brings to life one of the intricate puppets, the cheetah, and what parts of working on the show are the most spectacular and memorable.

To begin with, I wanted to know how you got started in the performing arts. What influenced you to go in that direction?

Well, since I was a little girl I have studied dance, I started when I was three years old. I was watching the Nutcracker ballet on television one day. From that moment on I asked my family to put me in ballet and from there I began to study, I studied in high school, I studied in college, everything was about art and dance, classical and modern.

And from there when I graduated I went to San Francisco, I continued my studies with Alonzo King’s LINES ballet company. I studied with the company, worked with other companies as well. I returned to Miami and worked with other companies and I also studied in New York. So between Miami, San Francisco and New York I was studying, dancing and auditioning.

And what was it like to be part of this beloved production of The Lion King?

Well, I auditioned and they called me two years later. And in those two years they were a lot like, they had me like, they had a position for me and they didn’t have a position for me, they thanked me for showing up to the audition. And then they finally called me, they told me that I was already in the company, so that was the most wonderful thing when they called me.

Can you talk a little bit about the roles you have in this production?

I am part of the ensemble, as a dancer, but I also sing and I also work with the cheetah puppet. So I dance with that puppet, all the dancers walk around the stadium, the actors have other animals on them, but my main one is the cheetah.

I was looking that the cheetah is one of the most intricate and popular puppets. Can you talk about what it’s like to learn to use it, the training with that?

Well, that took us a month of training, but in the first two weeks it was like the hardest part. It’s like learning a new language with the body. I have danced for so many years, I have studied, but I have never worked with puppets. So the first time I had to use not only the legs, but also the head and the best moment with the hands, which are their legs, it was well connected with the body.

So all in all, the first month studying with them was interesting, difficult, but very nice and then I will complete five years in September, so I have been studying for five years and dancing with the cheetah and moving with the puppet every day. I mean, now it is a different feeling. I am already part of it.

And do you now have a favorite song or scene to perform?

Well, my favorite, I’m not in that part of the show because I’m getting ready backstage with the cheetah, but my favorite is with Scar, “Be Prepared”. This is my favorite because it’s the first time we are seeing the stage change colors, it’s not the most beautiful part anymore and they change the colors of the sun, that yellow, orange, red, something vibrant, and now they change the colors to gray, black, green, all dark. Now you understand the brother Scar who is jealous and angry with his brother. So we have that different feeling. That’s always my favorite.

For people who haven’t seen this play but have seen the movie, what would you say are the differences between the movie and this production?

Well, the most different thing is that you are seeing actors, you are seeing humans and dancers, we are interpreting these animals and that already makes a difference in the story. That can already take something different because you are no longer watching animations, or dolls, or the movie. Now you are seeing it in person, it is alive. And the songs are felt, the actors are felt, the story is alive and you take those stories with you after the presentation, because it speaks to everyone even if they are a child or a father, or a sister, or an adult or they don’t speak English. My family, who speaks Spanish, saw it and understood it. It is a story that is understood and felt.

What do you enjoy most about being part of this work?

The family, the audience, everything that comes with the tour life, being on the road every day. I love meeting new people every day, getting to know different cities, connecting with the actors who already feel like family after five years. And also, well, I thank God for all the support from the audiences in every city, because in every place we go, the love from the audience is felt from the beginning. So I thank God for that every day.

And for my last question, I wanted to know why would you recommend people to come and see The Lion King?

For the show, for the experience, for the story, for the music, the language. What for? So that the family, or you, can take away a message and celebrate what The Lion King is in the stadium, because this is something, a very, very big and beautiful show. And we can’t get to every city. When we get to one part of the world, we want everybody to be able to come out and see it if they can. So, for the moment, for the memory.

Many thanks to San Jose and California for having their hands open for us and we are very happy to arrive and be with everyone there.

More information is available at broadwaysanjose.com.

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