How do you feel about celebrating your 15th anniversary in the Lion King?
George Asprey: It feels slightly surreal. It’s not a case of celebrating longevity because you only ever take one song at a time. It’s more like an accumulation because you’re only ever as good as your last show. We have no given right to play Scar and Mufasa so we have to be as good as what’s out there. It’s taking it one show at a time and now all of a sudden we've had fifteen years of the show.
Shaun Escoffery: It’s a wonderful honour. I look back at myself and my partner in crime George with fondness and gratitude. We never dreamed we’d be doing this show for fifteen years. I feel extremely lucky to be able to do something we love with consistency. We are both aware of the huge responsibility that we have.
After so much time, you must know each other very well….
George Asprey: I always tell people that I have four sisters and I always wanted a brother, I never realised that it would turn out to be this 6ft brute from east London. That’s how close we are. We also train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together off stage and have done so for over ten years now - we even do it between shows. Shaun’s a black belt, I’m a brown belt. There’s that spirit of competition between us.
Shaun Escoffery: We’ve been very close for fifteen years, he’s my best friend. If things ever go wrong in our scenes, we have each others’ backs. Once my mask went flying across the stage. I’m looking at George, George is looking at me, and George just casually walked over and picked up my mask and gave it back to me, and we carried on. It’s about that level of trust on stage.
Do you still remember your audition?
George Asprey: I remember that as soon as I got the script it just went in. I read it once and I knew it off by heart. And that's a really good sign because it means that you identify with the words. You're not just learning the words but the words are almost entering your soul. And when you can connect your heart and your mind and your voice together into one thing, then it becomes something altogether more powerful.
Shaun Escoffery: I initially auditioned for Simba when the show first came to London and was offered a part in the ensemble and to cover Simba. I ended up signing a record deal instead but always thought that was a bit of a lost opportunity. Then years later, I was doing Parade at the Donmar Warehouse and the Resident Director at The Lion King at the time came to see the show and contacted my agent saying I’d be great for the part of Mufasa. After a gruelling audition process I got the part! I remember my agent called to tell me I’d got the part of Mufasa when I was in the car with my fiancé at the time, now my wife, and I was so chuffed. It was a really poignant time in my life. And I haven't looked back for 15 years.
The Lion King has been seen by 18 million people just in London. Why do you think people come to see the show?
George Asprey: One reason for The Lion King’s success has got to be the music, it is the ultimate soul music. Every night I see that the show appeals to every single age group on a different levels, from the spectacle that the kids are amazed at through to the story that the adults are fully invested in - it is Shakespeare after all the return of the prodigal son!
Shaun Escoffrey: Where to even start? It’s timeless. There really is something in it that everyone, no matter where they are from, seems to identify with. The story seems to transcend languages and cultures and age groups. Alongside that you have the pure spectacle of it all - the music and the harmonies and the costumes and the colours - it’s something special. You can’t pigeon hole it as any one thing, it stands alone. It's a masterpiece.
What is your favourite song or part of the musical?
George Asprey: They Live in You which Shaun sings, it’s extraordinary. And I have to say I love Be Prepared.
Shaun Escoffery: It’s got to be Circle of Life.
What would you say to someone who has not seen The Lion King and is not sure about coming to watch the musical?
George Asprey: The Lion King is at its heart a story about life and death, the most fundamental things we experience as human beings, so come and see it because once you see it you’ll never forget it.
Shaun Escoffery: The Lion King transcends theatre. On an entertainment level and on an artistic level I can guarantee it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
You can find tickets from £37: here.