Eric Bean, Jr. vividly remembers seeing the cast of Disney on Broadway’s “The Lion King” perform during a broadcast of the Tony Awards while living in his hometown in Bermuda as a teen. He said he particularly felt inspired seeing “so many Black and Brown people on the stage, performing and doing what we love to do.”
“It became a bit of an inspiration to know that people of color could not only be performers, and vocalists and dancers, and thrive in musical theater; but they could also be creators,” the 38-year-old said, noting the contributions of choreographer Garth Fagan and composer Lebo M to the production. “That is huge for young aspiring artists of color. So, because I saw that, I was like, ‘This is a show that if I have the opportunity to be a part of, I would love to [be a part of it].’”
Bean is now fulfilling that dream as he performs as a dancer swing in the ensemble for national tour of “The Lion King,” which is currently playing at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Academy of Music through Sept. 10. As part of the ensemble for the stage adaptation of Disney’s 1994 film, Bean performs in roles ranging from a zebra — which he affectionately calls “Zeb” due to it being his first role in the tour — to principal roles such as Ed, the hyena.
This experience marks Bean’s first time on the Kimmel stage. The University of the Arts alumni previously lived in Philadelphia for 10 years and has performed with the city’s Eleone Dance Theater and with Koresh Dance Company. However, he has never performed at the Academy of Music.
“I’m really excited about that,” Bean said. “And the fact that I get a chance to do this with one of the the biggest shows in the world — a show that has kind of been an aspiration for me to become a part of — it feels very full circle to be able to come back to where it all started, and show how much I have grown, and how much I have learned since my time here.”
Bean said that the initial Tony performance of “The Lion King” cast turned him on to the idea of performing but said that his mom always knew he was supposed to be a performer, specifically when she saw him view another Disney property.
“Apparently when I was really young, I was a little bit obsessed with ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ — like ‘The New Mickey Mouse Club’ — specifically Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake. They were kind of my heartthrobs. I was like, I’m gonna dance for ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ secretly thinking one of them is going to become my boyfriend,” Bean said with a laugh. “But I was absolutely obsessed with the thought of [working on the show]. And I really loved moving and dancing. But I didn’t think that that was going to become a career for me.”
It did become a career for Bean, and he hopes to continue working in the theater field beyond performing onstage. Earlier this month, he graduated from University of Denver with a master’s degree in Arts and Culture Management. His goal is to eventually move into show creation and show development when he’s ready to retire from the stage. He noted some possible opportunities in Las Vegas, where he lives full time.
“There are a plethora of shows up there and companies that I would love an opportunity to work with and work for, one of which being Cirque du Soleil,” Bean said. “They have a huge hub in Las Vegas. And I think one of my end goals, with my time in Las Vegas, will probably be to work at one of the resorts and see if I can become their entertainment director and help them cultivate the shows that they’re going to do, and pull talent and create.”
However, he said he eventually wants to go back to Bermuda.
“That is my home,” Bean said. “Eventually I do want to go back there and start a few things. I’ve been systematically working toward the concept of creating a summer festival there. So it’s all in the works.”
Bean also said he loves “being a part of the Disney family” and has been speaking with leadership at the company to see if he could “be in the room and learn from them and the magic that they create.”
Part of this magic includes how Disney shows, specifically “The Lion King,” resonate with LGBTQ+ people and people of color within the audience.
“One of the biggest themes within the show is the power of the community,” Bean said. “At the top of the second act, we sing a song called ‘One By One.’ And it’s actually one of my favorite songs in the show, because it’s firstly sung entirely a capella. And secondly, the song is sung entirely in Zulu, except for the tagline ‘one by one.’
“It just has this sense of community and connection. And it’s the first time the audience gets to see the cast as our human selves and not as our animal counterparts. And it’s all about this idea that we can change hearts and minds together. We just have to do it one by one…I think people of color and people within the LGBTQ community can relate to that.”
Overall, Bean said he is looking forward to taking the Kimmel stage for the next few weeks. He said he is “super pumped to be here and I hope that people are gonna come out and see the show.”
“There’s always something for everybody — from little kids to grown adults,” Bean said. “This is a family show, like a full-time family show. Don’t think that it’s just going to be for the babies. Trust me when I say even the most elderly amongst us will get something from this and it’ll be a fantastic time for all.”
The national tour of “The Lion King” plays through Sept. 10 at the Academy of Music, 240 S Broad St. For tickets and information, visit kimmelculturalcampus.org.