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It’s the Lion’s Show, Baby

Finding one’s self, up on the planks.

It’s the Lion’s Show, Baby

Feb 22, 2024 Theatre

I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t think I could carry them. Plus, the other tattoo that I was thinking of getting was ‘No Day But Today’ from Rent, the musical, when I was 18, and that scares the hell out of me. But if I were to get one, I would get one of a lion. Specifically, one of the Cowardly Lion, because playing the Lion in my high school production of The Wizard of Oz changed the course of my entire life.

High school was a daily misery for me. I was painfully shy, painfully horny and riddled with undiagnosed autism. But nevertheless, I had a dream. I wanted to be a musical theatre performer. I would spend hours in my room, headphones on, performing for my walls. In my room I played all the parts — Elphaba in Wicked, Éponine in Les Mis, every single one of the cats in Cats. So when my best friend/high school music teacher announced that the school production that year was going to be The Wizard of Oz, I knew this was my big chance. I could pursue my dream and at the same time show everyone at school that I was not in fact a freakazoid nerd who sweated constantly and couldn’t talk — I was a star

I went to an all-girls school, which meant every part was available to play. But I didn’t want to take advantage of that open door: I wanted to be Dorothy. But if we’ve learned anything from the High School Musical franchise it’s that there is nothing with higher stakes than the high school musical. Everyone wanted to be Dorothy. Including the deputy head girl, who did a speech in assembly about “the importance of culture” and finished her speech by saying, “and I hope to play Dorothy in the school production this year”. This was before auditions even happened. Can you believe that? I was sitting in the crowd; I was scandalised. I kept looking around, saying, “Is everyone hearing this? She is an elected official using her platform for evil!” I’m still angry about this, 17 years later. 

Finally, the audition day came. There was a group audition and then callbacks for individual roles. I got two callbacks, Dorothy (yuss) and the Lion (pity callback, not interested). Now, you had to audition in front of everyone, because high school is a horrifying place, and I did my Dorothy and it went… okay. I didn’t feel great about it. Next, I got called up for the Lion. Unlike my Dorothy audition, I had put no thought into this. Seconds before I started speaking, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just do what the guy did in the movie’, so I adopted my best Bert Lahr impersonation and committed to it 100%. Suddenly, all my peers were laughing at me. I was furious. In my head I was thinking, ‘Stop laughing, I’m never going to be Dorothy!’ But the angrier I got, the bigger my performance got, the more they were laughing, and by the time I sat down I was like, ‘Damn it… I was too good at being the Lion.’

The next day the roles were posted and confirmed what I knew to be true in my heart. The deputy head girl was Dorothy and I was the flipping Lion. I could not believe it. The quirky, weird character was me?? I did accept the role, because, one, I am a professional, and two, I really needed to make some friends.

But rehearsals started and my opinion about being the Lion started to change. Dorothy doesn’t actually have many good lines. You know who has all the good lines? The Lion. He has all the funny lines, all the zingers. Also, there is only one character in The Wizard of Oz who has two solo songs. Can you guess who it is? I’ll give you a clue: it ain’t Dorothy. It’s the Lion. Over the course of rehearsals my confidence grew to staggering heights. For the first time my peers were laughing at me not because I spilled water on myself in a way that looked like piss, but because I was funny. I was getting attention for being good at something, and it was intoxicating. 

When it came time for the performances, I was ready. I would pace backstage, waiting for my entrance, waiting for Dorothy to enter my forest, feeling excited for the audience that they would get to witness the Majesty of the Lion. I have never in my life felt as confident as I did singing ‘King of the Forest ’, dressed in a full lion suit, complete with face paint, mane, ears and tail. I even invited the boy I had a crush on to watch the performance — how could he not be into me after seeing that? (He brought his new girlfriend with him to the show. She was a ballerina. I was fine about it.) When it came to the bows, I would walk out like the star I was. My mum actually told me to tone it down a bit, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Because this was the Lion’s show, baby — everyone else is just in it!

From there, everything changed. I made friends, I talked more in class, I would go on to star as Horton the Elephant in our high school production of Seussical. My sister got the other prime role, as the Cat in the Hat, causing a minor scandal at the time. 

So if I were to get a tattoo, I would get one of the Lion. To remind me that, in times of doubt, this is the Lion’s show, baby! Everyone else is just in it. 

This column was published in Metro N°441.
Available here.


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Metro N°442 is Out Now.

In the Autumn 2024 issue of Metro we celebrate the best of Tāmaki Makaurau — 100 great things about life in Auckland, including our favourite florist, furniture store, cocktail, basketball court, tree, make-out spot, influencer, and psychic. The issue also includes the Metro Wine Awards, the battle over music technology company Serato, the end of The Pantograph Punch, the Billy Apple archives, a visit to Armenia, viral indie musician Lontalius, the state of fine dining, and the time we bombed West Auckland to kill a moth. Plus restaurants, movies, politics, astrology, and more.

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