It's homecoming day on Saturday for Montego Glover, a Broadway star with Disney World roots.
The Tony-nominated actress is returning to Central Florida for a one-night gig tied to her past. Glover was one of the original lead singers in "Festival of the Lion King," a stage show that opened along with Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park in 1998.
"It was really incredible … to watch the show develop and to be involved in developing the show — and to watch the park come to life," Glover said from her home in New York City. "It was really created around us. There were mounds of dirt and construction going on like crazy."
She's returning to Animal Kingdom on Saturday as a celebrity narrator for a new show, "The Lion King — Concert in the Wild," centerpiece of the park's "Harambe Nights." The after-hours event, which runs Saturdays through Aug. 9, marks the 20th anniversary of the film.
Those early Disney World performances — she played Kibibi (which means "princess," according to the script) — became a launching pad for Glover's career. For three years, she starred on Broadway as Felicia in "Memphis," earning a Tony nod in 2010. Her recent television work includes roles on ABC's "Smash," CBS's "Hostages" and Fox's "The Following." She will be seen soon on ABC's "The Black Box."
Her time with Disney was valuable, she said.
"It was a tremendous learning experience as an artist because I was creating a role from the ground up," she said.
Before her three years in Orlando, Glover spent a year singing professionally in Japan. Kibibi's big moment in the show is a solo performance of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."
Working for Disney taught her that large corporations can create art, she said. Demonstrating that you can "mold your art into a working business model was hugely helpful to me as an artist," Glover said.
Glover and Disney connected in Atlanta during auditions to cast the first shows of Animal Kingdom, said Reed Jones, director of creative development.
"We were looking for very specific types for those four lead singers, and basically she was exactly what we were looking for," he said.
Park visitors also might have seen Glover in "Tarzan Rock," another Animal Kingdom show, or heard her voice during Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, which ended this month, Jones said.
A lot has changed since Glover's tenure at Disney World. "The Festival of the Lion King" originally debuted in an open-air amphitheater. The production recently opened in a new theater in the Africa section of the theme park.
There will be at least one familiar face. Tim Cain, one of Glover's early castmates, has returned to Disney to reprise his role in the daily show, and he will share narration duties with her for the Harambe Nights show.
"I think they're both looking forward to seeing old friends and actually working together like that," Jones said.
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