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"The Lion King" has been a roaring success for Oak Park native

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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As an ensemble member, John Sloan III gets to play several roles in the stage version of Disney's "The Lion King." And that makes it hard to pick a favorite.

But when pressed, he goes with the second act opening number, "One By One."

"It's one the creators of the show wrote especially for it," the Oak Park- and Farmington-raised Sloan, 33, says by phone from a "Lion King" tour stop in New Orleans -- where he's recognized by a passerby at an outdoor cafe near his hotel.

"It's sun mostly in Zulu and was inspired by the opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. It's a song that takes place outside of the narrative of the show but what so much of the show is talking about. It's just a moment for the ensemble to embody that spirit in a different context. It's all a capella and is just a beautiful moment."

Then again, Sloan adds, being a wildebeest during the opulent opening number isn't bad, either.

Sloan -- who attended the International Academy for two years and graduated from Farmington High School -- has been part of "The Lion King" off and son since 2007, shortly after he graduated from the University of Michigan. Theater was a focus since his youth; His mother and aunt both taught music in Detroit public schools, and the family's church choir would assemble at his home on Saturdays to practice for the next day's services.

"Performing arts were just a ubiquitous presence around me," Sloan, who started studying violin when he was four years old and was also part of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and the Lathrup Youth Theatre. "I never really thought about it as a career because it was such a part of my life." But his father, a philosophy instructor at Oakland Community College, offered a different perspective.

"When I was a sophomore in high school we were talking about what I wanted to major in, and I said I was thinking about public policy, maybe going pre-law," Sloan remembers. "He said, 'What about performing arts?' and I gave him a very pragmatic answer about how it would be difficult.

"And then my dad looked at me and said, 'Is there anything you enjoy doing more?' I said, 'Well, no,' and he said, 'OK. Go to school for that and figure the rest of it out later.' That was really special to me. Not a lot of kids have that kind of support from their parents for doing something as crazy as going into musical theater."

Now that he has made a go of it, Sloan is looking to give back -- in his home town. When his latest run with "The Lion King" ends in July he's planning to return to the Detroit area to start a non-profit program for aspiring youth artists from underprivileged areas in music, dance and staging. "I've spent a decade bouncing around," Sloan says, "so now my goal is to come home and build a sustainable art and philanthropic community and maybe break down the barrier between academics and arts. A show like ('The Lion King') is so tech heavy; It's a real example of how engineering and artistry intersect.

"When I was growing up people made you choose one or the other. So I'd like to bridge that gap for students and show them more opportunities."

"The Lion King"

February 1-26.

Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St.

Tickets are $69-$202.

Call 313-237-7464 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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