Cleveland native Paul Sadler Jr. has made traveling with the North American tour of The Lion King a family affair for 11½ years.
Life on the road is all that his 11-year-old son, Noah, has known, considering he was only 4 months old when Sadler started with the tour. Sadler and his wife, Loreen, Noah and their 16-year-old daughter, Chase, have traveled to 85 cities in 43 states, including Alaska.
They all enjoy the adventure, Sadler said.
“My kids love it and we have had a ball out here the last 11½ years,” he said.
The children, who are home-schooled, do their studies from 7 or 8 a.m. until as late as 1:30 p.m., then have the rest of the day free. Sadler applies his company hotel stipend to apartments, condominiums or corporate housing in each tour city so his family can spread out with their own kitchen plus multiple bathrooms and bedrooms.
“Eating out gets a little old sometimes too,” Sadler said. “You just want to sit down and eat a sandwich on your couch.”
The tour, which is now in Tulsa, Okla., and will run in Cleveland from Tuesday to Aug. 4 at the State Theatre, often runs about a month in each city. (Call 216-241-6000 or see www.playhousesquare.org for tickets to the Cleveland run.)
For extracurricular activities, Chase plays the violin and the kids enjoy swimming at the YMCA in every city they go to. The family also gets involved in a church in each tour city, calling ahead to let the pastor know they’re coming.
The Sadlers, the only family originally to travel with the tour, have coached other families on how to make it work. The Lion King’s North American tour now has 11 families with 22 kids on the road. Sadler and his family, who drive their own car from city to city, are reimbursed for their mileage.
Sadler has a history of performing with shows for a long time. Before The Lion King, he performed on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera for more than eight years as a slave master, solo dancer, Phantom double and various other ensemble roles.
“For me, less is more,” he said. “I just love that look of awe, the exciting connection you get from the audience.”
“Shows like Phantom, shows like Lion King, those are once-in-a-lifetime shows. If you’re happy, stay with it,” he said.
Sadler, who was in the first graduating class from Cleveland School of the Arts in 1984, is one of the original 2002 members of the Lion King’s Gazelle touring company, along with South African actor Vusi Mhlongo and dance captain Jason Lewis.
Although The Lion King has performed in Cleveland twice before, this will be Sadler’s first time performing at home: The first time, he was on medical leave with a torn ACL and the second time he was not with the touring company that came to Cleveland. There were two North American touring companies, however, Sadler’s company is the sole one currently touring.
Sadler has a proud mom, Rosie Sadler, in Cleveland, as well as brother Exidus Sadler in Akron and sister Rose Penn in Macedonia. His mother will take 47 guests to the show’s first Saturday performance in Cleveland, and alumni from his high school also will attend July 25.
The Lion King has nine companies running concurrently, including on Broadway, in Tokyo, on tour in Japan, in London, on tour throughout the United Kingdom, and in Madrid, Sao Paolo and Hamburg, Germany.
George Lee Andrews, an original Phantom cast member who worked nearly 24 years in the show on Broadway and holds a Guinness World Record for the feat, helped Sadler decide to make the leap from Phantom to The Lion King.
Sadler said he advised him: “If you can get the opportunity to go out on the road, and your family comes with you, do it.”
In The Lion King ensemble, Sadler plays a zebra, gazelle, hyena and red and white trickster, a figment of Simba’s imagination that’s a mixture of a rhino and an elephant. He also operates a little Simba pole puppet. In all, Sadler has 14 costume changes.
“It keeps your show busy,” he said. “You have to stay in tune with it, with the story, what’s going on, what costume you have on. You’re out of breath, you get some water, and you run out there and do it again.”
Sadler, a classically trained dancer, began studying as a scholarship student with the School of Cleveland Ballet in 1983. His first professional gig was The Nutcracker with the Cleveland Ballet as a high school student.
He attended Wilberforce University but wasn’t happy there because it didn’t have a theater program. Sadler grew up acting at Karamu House and Cleveland Playhouse and studied voice at Cleveland Settlement.
He next studied dance in Chicago and then studied on full scholarship with the Alvin Ailey School in New York before becoming a principal dancer with the Philadelphia Dance Company.
Sadler, 47, said The Lion King dancers are some of the best-trained dancers around. Choreography by Garth Fagan is grounded in classical dance but also draws on tribal dance as well as the modern dance vocabularies of Fagan himself as well as Martha Graham. Sadler, who works out three hours a day six days a week, said his hyena dance is highly intense, running three straight minutes at breakneck speed.
“There are not very many shows for African-Americans in which you can really use your broad sense of training,” Sadler said. “I’ve been training all my life for this.”
Sadler, who described the celebrated musical as the perfect show for him, loves both The Lion King’s spectacle as well as its touching story.
“You come across those shows that really tug at our heartstrings a little bit. They mean something to you,” he said.
He spoke of Simba’s evolution from a lion cub to his true birthright as a king who comes back to the Pridelands to take care of his family: “That’s what we all want to do. We want to take care of our families. We want to provide for them and inspire them.”
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.