For the fifth time since it opened 19 years ago, Disney’s “The Lion King” is returning to stage at the Orpheum Theatre.

The beloved story of a young lion cub learning his place in the world is one of Disney’s most popular films, and most popular musicals.

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The show opened in April 1997 for a preview run in Minneapolis before hitting Broadway in November of that same year. In the almost two decades since, audiences have continued to flock to the theater by the thousands when the show returns.

It’s almost as if Minnesotans feel connected to the show, feeling as though it got its start here.

For many in the cast, it is a mutual feeling.

Actor Nick Cordileone, who plays Timon in the touring production, said the cast can certainly feel the love each and every night when they perform in Minneapolis.

A Minnesotan himself, Cordileone spoke about his experience touring for six years with the show, and gave his thoughts on the new U.S. Bank Stadium.

So, you’ve been on tour for quite some time with “The Lion King!”

Cordileone: [Yes.] [I’ve] been on tour since 2010. So I just passed six years.

Wow! That’s impressive! So, then you’ve visited Minneapolis on the tour before?

Cordileone: I’ve been in Minneapolis one time before. I had a blast. I can’t wait to get back!

But, you weren’t originally brought in to audition for the show, correct?

Cordileone: When I was in between acting jobs my day job was acting as a reader. So, I was helping out with a different set of auditions and they said, ‘Hey, can you come over and help with ‘The Lion King.” And I said, ‘Sure!’ We read a few folks coming in to audition and the casting director said, ‘Hey, do you think this is something that you may be interested in doing?’ And I said, ‘Uh, yeah! Absolutely!’ So, we kind of went from there and I got the opportunity to see what role fit best, what they needed and that kind of stuff. It was really off the radar but it turned out to be the job of a lifetime. It’s been great.

What an amazing opportunity! It truly goes to show you never know where a job will take you! So, this is your first Broadway production. Tell me, how is it different from the regional and classical work you’ve done?

Cordileone: It’s completely different. I had just left an off-Broadway show where I think our capacity was 50 to 100 people in a small black box in New York. Then, when I first joined the tour, I came and was tracking around backstage at the Orange County Performing Center and it was enormous. It was like an airplane hangar! I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if I have this! This scope is so much bigger than anything I’m used to.’ [But] you just approach it from the aspect of step-by-step. You learn the scene work, you learn the songs and then you learn the puppet with some mirror work. Slowly, it gets folded into each other where you’re doing all three of these things at once, and then you get the costumes and the lights and the 3,000 people a night.

I can imagine it is a significant difference performing in front of 100 people versus 3,000 people! Speaking of working with the puppet, tell me – had you had any previous experience working with puppets?

Cordileone: I hadn’t; just experience with toys in a toy store. But nothing as complex as what I get to use in this show, which is sort of a modified Bunraku type-puppet. It was a learning curve. I had six weeks to get comfortable with it. And I’ve been learning ever since.

How much of that six weeks was devoted simply to puppet work?

Cordileone: I would say probably a solid third of it, between that and the scene work and the music. Then on a given day you might go in and just be in front of the mirror for the day, or you might go in and just shadow the production that is happening to see how it all plays together. Slowly, you fit in all of the elements together.

Can you speak a bit about the physicality of the puppet? How does it differ working with a puppet of that size, versus a smaller one or no puppet at all?

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Cordileone: You don’t want to treat it like this sort of separate thing in front of you. My first instinct was to be like, ‘Oh, there’s this three-and-a-half foot puppet standing in front of me. It’s like there’s two of us.’ And really quickly I got, ‘Oh, no. That’s not it at all.’ It’s a part of me. The best way to describe it is if it’s like a funnel – you’re sending your energy through it to tell the story as opposed to side-by-side.

I can see how there would be a learning curve to figuring out the dynamics of the puppet. So, “The Lion King” is an extremely well-known show and many know Nathan Lane’s Timon from the film. Tell me, did you feel the need to bring in elements that Lane used?

Cordileone: No. The role is written with so many of the given circumstances that sort of push you in the way that Nathan went with it. But, the creative team was not interested in having people sort of imitate the animated film. That said, you have somebody like Nathan who is finding and mining all the comedy, [and you’re] telling the same jokes. All of that comes out and you go ‘Oh, no. I see. I see echoes of what Nathan has done, or what Max Casella has done or any of the guys before me.’ [Timon has just] got that want-to-be-wise-guy, that Jersey-by-way-of-the-Savannah personality.

That is a great way to describe Timon! What is your favorite part of the show?

Cordileone: My favorite moment that I’m in is the part called “Under the Stars.” We’re all just kind of looking up at the stars wondering what they are and we all have our own ideas. It’s just these three guys sort of kicking back, and sort of thinking about life. My favorite moment that I’m not in is the “He Lives In You Reprise.” [This is] where the kings and queens of the past come back and support Simba and tell him that things are going to be alright. He has sort of lost his way a bit, but once he figures out who he is he can go back and take care of things.

Those are both very powerful moments of the show. I can see why you enjoy them so much. So, several theories compare “The Lion King” to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” How do you feel “Hamlet,” and other Shakespeare works compare to this show?

Cordileone: I think it definitely has a lot of parallels to “Hamlet.” With that in mind, I started to look and see if I could see any other types of characters, or sort of stock types of people you might find in Shakespeare or Shakespearean productions. I feel like Scar has a Richard III appeal to him, he gives me that vibe in addition to being a Claudius from “Hamlet.” Zazu is more of a court guy in any play set in a court. Then I kind of see Timon and Pumba as kind of the characters from Henry IV. They are the guys that pal around with Prince Hal before he becomes Henry, where he is kind of shirking his responsibilities. I feel like there is a lot of that in Shakespeare and in our show.

What makes “The Lion King” different than many classical productions?

Cordileone: The biggest difference is, for me, between our show and a more classical production is how complete the vision is. [It’s] sort of a perfect storm that Julie Taymor came up with, blending all these different story elements [to tell a] a relatively simple story. It’s really something to be a part of.

It’s quite a beautiful production, with all of the elements combined with the story. Tell me, what do you think audiences would be surprised to learn about this tour?

Cordileone: If they don’t know already, I think people would be surprised to learn that we’ve been touring for coming up on 14 or 15 years. I think there is a familiarity with all of us as artists but at the same time it’s newly minted every night. We are doing this story as if it is the first time because for a lot of people it is their first time. We all take that responsibility very seriously. We’re fortunate that the product is such that it is easy to do that, but it’s also something we’re very mindful of. So, I don’t think most people would know [we’ve been on tour that long], if they didn’t know it already.

I’m sure audiences can really feel that in your performances and appreciate that. It certainly is a part of why the show has been on tour so long! So, I have to ask, since you’ve lived in Minnesota, what is your favorite memory of your time here?

Cordileone: It’s so funny, my first memories are from my first six to seven years in Minnesota. So, before I could even talk I remember being on a canoe in Lake Minnetonka. I think I met Fran Tarkenton. I still have a Fran Tarkenton card on my dressing station. Still, when I think of all my sports teams it’s all Minnesota – Twins and Vikings. But now that I have a 14-year-old, now it’s all about the Mall Of America.

Oh, of course! The Mall of America is a big draw for teens! So being a Vikings fan, will you be able to see the new U.S. Bank Stadium when you’re here?

Cordileone: I’ve seen it! I’m super excited about it. It’s beautiful and it looks like it’s going to be a cool centerpiece. The architecture looks just incredible.

It really is! Being that you have memories from here, what do you enjoy most about performing in Minnesota?

Cordileone:  Not jsut because I have familial ties, but I feel like the city has a familial tie to “The Lion King” because it had its pre-Broadway run there. You’d think you would go back and people would be like ‘Oh, we’ve see this.’ But it’s not been that at all. It’s been just as exciting if not more each time we go back. There’s this pride of ownership that the Minneapolis audiences have. We still have an original cast member who was there when it first started close to 20 years ago. So, it has a real sense of history and yet it feels fresh as it’s being done for the first time because of how excited everyone is.

That’s wonderful to hear! I’m so glad Minnesota audiences have continued to be so receptive. So, my last question, aside from “The Lion King,” what is your favorite Disney movie?

Cordileone:  If had to pick I might say “Tarzan.”

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The Lion King” is open now at the Orpheum Theatre. It is playing through Aug. 7. Tickets cost $49 to $129. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the Hennepin Theatre Trust online.