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Lion King cast member says arts education can be catalyst for academic success

Feb 9, 2017

The Lion King opened on Broadway in November 1997. Nearly 20 years later it’s still going strong. The musical returns to the Detroit Opera House this month and for one of the show’s actors, it’s a bit of a homecoming.

Oak Park native John Sloan III attended University of Michigan and performs this month as a member of Lion King’s ensemble. He spoke to Stateside about his journey to the performing arts and why he believes the arts are critical to any education.

Sloan grew up surrounded by musicians and performed in theater as a young teen. But in high school, he told his dad that he planned to study public policy and pre-law in college. His father encouraged him to pursue a career in the arts, asking him if there was anything else he liked more than performing.

The Lion King continues to attract fans – new and old. Sloan said the show owes its success to a few factors: an archetypal story, dynamic staging and a unique, immersive cultural experience.

“We speak in Zulu, Sotho, Swahili, Xhosa when we’re singing in the show,” Sloan said. “It’s a true multi-cultural experience. And that’s something that was very rare when it opened, and is a little bit more rare than I would like, personally.”

On Feb. 13, Sloan and his nonprofit The Helping Hands Campaign will host a Young Artist Workshop in collaboration with The Future Project in Detroit. He hopes the workshop will help blur the lines between arts and academics, showing how performing arts programs in schools can be a catalyst for academic engagement and self-confidence.

For the full conversation, listen above. The Lion King plays at the Detroit Opera House through Feb. 26.

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