NEW YORK (AP) — The medical drama CBS’ “Code Black” gets a dose of Broadway magic this week when cast members from “The Lion King” — and one memorable Mufasa — end up in the emergency room.
Alton Fitzgerald White, who has played Simba’s father in the musical over a record-breaking 4,000 times, came out of “The Lion King” retirement to appear on Wednesday’s episode of the series starring Marcia Gay Harden.
“To be a part of the two worlds colliding? Incredible. It was like, ‘Wow,'” said White, who was flown from New York to Los Angeles to film the show. “This is such a beautiful cap to my ‘Lion King’ experience.”
Related: New On CBS Primetime, ‘Code Black’
In the episode, titled “The Son Rises,” White plays an actor who portrays Mufasa in a touring version of the Disney musical who arrives at Angels Memorial hospital with a nasty throat infection.
A handful of fellow cast members — picked from the real touring production of “The Lion King” — come to his bedside to pray he’ll pull through and be able to sing again.
That story line is fused with another about a boy and his father. Soon “The Lion King” performers are belting out a powerful version of “He Lives in You.” Harden said the theater pros transformed the filming process.
“When they came on set, they had that energy of harmony and synchronicity,” she said. “When they started singing, it was electric. It was transforming. It was beautiful.”
Michael Seitzman, the show’s creator and writer, came up with the idea a few years ago after watching a viral video on YouTube. In it, performers from “The Lion King” were stranded at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and sang to pass the time.
“I was kind of lit up by that. There was something about seeing them out of their costumes singing that song that we all know so well. It was exuberant and it was emotional and it was fun and it was funny,” he said. “It’s like when you’re a kid and you see your teacher at the supermarket.”
Filming the episode took two weeks in mid-October and climaxed in a moving finale that took 20 takes but left many of the 150 extras and regular cast members in tears.
“People were crying. At one point I was at the monitor and I turned around and I realized how many people had gathered behind me to watch it,” said Seitzman. “It was breathtaking. Their voices were breathtaking. The whole room fell apart. It was amazing.”
For White, who has played Mufasa on tour, in Las Vegas from 2009 to 2011, and on Broadway, it was a career highlight. “I didn’t have to do too much research — only 13 years of preparation,” he said, laughing.
Getting “The Lion King” — one of the jewels in the Disney crown — to play nice with CBS, a rival, blue-chip entertainment company, turned out to be a delightful surprise for Seitzman. He credited Disney Theatrical Group President Thomas Schumacher and CBS CEO Les Moonves for getting it green-lit.
“What I found that happened here, which so rarely happens, is you had a lot of people who just simply responded to the story,” he said. “You never know why those things work the way they work, but it just did and everybody just said ‘yes’ right away.”
For Harden, it was a chance to reconnect with Broadway, where she starred in “God of Carnage” and “Angels in America.” She leapt at the chance for her TV show to highlight the power of the stage and “The Lion King.”
“That show did so much for Broadway but now we want people to keep remembering about all the other shows and to just keep going to the theater and keep having those magical experiences,” she said. “That’s what I want.”
Listening to the professional voices sing so soulfully also gave the Oscar winner an idea for the future. “Was it so wrong that I hired them for my funeral?” she said, laughing.
CBS ordered five more episodes of the medical drama last week, bringing the total number of episodes to 18.
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