Elon grad returns to Durham in ‘The Lion King’

Phylicia Pearl / photo submitted

By Logan A. White
Times-News correspondent

   There’s no place like home.
Dorothy’s famed words from “The Wizard of Oz” have a much deeper meaning for Elon graduate Phylicia Pearl. After graduating in spring of 2015, the talented young actress was on her way to rehearsals for the national tour of one of Broadway’s premier musicals, “The Lion King.”
“I proclaimed my freshman year that I was going to be in a national tour,” she said with a laugh.
The Maryland native selected Elon after hearing her high school teachers comment on the quality of the programs offered at the university. Once she arrived to audition for the musical theater program, she knew that Elon was the campus for her.
   “This is home. There’s no place like Elon. People get caught up in the hype and glamour of it (musical theatre), and I think that Elon really taught me it’s about your character,” she said in retrospect. “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it.”
That advice carried her to great heights. The week before she graduated, Pearl received a phone call inviting her to audition for “The Lion King” in New York. Still unsure of her skills, she accepted the invitation. After initially underestimating the caliber of her audition, another call proved her wrong.
“As I was walking down the streets of New York, going into the train, I got a phone call (saying) that I got the part of vocal swing … I had a job, and not only a job, but an amazing job coming out of school.”
The elation quickly morphed into anxiety. A swing serves as understudy for a majority of the ensemble roles in a show, as well as an understudy for a few major roles.
“As a swing, you basically have to know the whole show and be ready to jump in at any moment. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Pearl found that the best way for her to connect with the show and relieve pressure was to just relax and think about what “The Lion King’s” story meant to her.
“When I think about the movie, I’m always thinking about my African ancestors. When I think of a character like Rafiki, I think of my grandmother and how I’m telling the story of the people who have come before me in my family and how their stories are extending through me,” Pearl explained. “Instead of telling a single story, I can find different ways in a script to show and tell my story and tell my own family’s story.”
“The Lion King” tour arrives at the Durham Performing Arts Center next week, and Pearl is definitely excited about returning to North Carolina to perform.
“It feels like I’m almost coming full circle. There’s something about the idea of leaving. I think it’s a negative connotation. And I think that sometimes leaving makes you stronger. I went to school, and now I’m coming back to show people that the time I spent with you all in North Carolina has actually made me a better person and a better performer.”
You can see Pearl in “The Lion King” beginning this Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), 123 Vivian Street. Tickets range from $33 to $99 and can be purchased at all Ticketmaster outlets, at dpacnc.com or by phone at (919) 680–2787.

 Logan A. White is a sophomore home-schooler and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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