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Interview: Ben Lipitz of THE LION KING at Aronoff Center

Interview: Ben Lipitz of THE LION KING at Aronoff Center

Have you ever wanted to jump inside your favorite Disney movie and live in that world? Ben Lipitz has been living that dream for years as he plays Pumbaa in the national tour of DISNEY'S THE LION KING.

Lipitz has been a part of THE LION KING family for well over a decade (over 6,000 performances) playing the iconic warthog both touring and on Broadway. Audiences may also recognize him from previous credits such as: Michael in GOD OF CARNAGE, Max Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS (Walnut Street Theatre), Tevye in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Broadway Live), Policy Pinkle in RED, HOT AND BLUE (Goodspeed Opera, Papermill Playhouse), and many more.

Lipitz has also appeared on screen in "Law And Order: SVU," "The Sopranos," "Law And Order," "100 Centre Street," "Homicide," "The Giraffe" and "Find Me Guilty."

Check out the Q&A below to hear what drew Lipitz to the musical, what keeps him coming back, similarities between him and Pumbaa, and much more.

You've been in The Lion King family for a long time now, but going back to the beginning, what drew you to the musical initially?

I've dreamed of performing in this show ever since I saw it when it debuted in 1998. The vision, the spectacle, the storytelling is immense and affected me deeply. To be a part of this legacy would be a privilege.

What continues to inspire you after over 6,000 performances?

The sense that every performance is new for our audience and that responsibility for being my absolute best is first and foremost in my mind.

Being with the character for so long, what would you say would be the top three things that you've learned from playing Pumbaa?

Unconditional love, kindness and always having someone's back.

Are there any similarities between you and the warthog? Differences?

I like to think that playing Pumbaa has made me a better person. Looking for something bigger than myself is a big part of what Pumbaa has taught me.

For lovers of the movie who have yet to see the musical, what would you tell them is special about the stage adaptation?

There's nothing that compares to live performance and being a part of that experience.

How does Pumbaa and Lion King as a whole differ from your other credits such as Max Bialystock in The Producers and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof?

You've mentioned two mammoth roles that are wholly consuming. Starring roles that are onstage almost every moment. While Pumbaa is a supporting player, not so less essential. The stamina required to wear a 50lb puppet while telling the story is totally different than the stamina required in the other roles. All three want validation, love and acceptance but require a different set of tools. What they have in common is their humanity and I hope I bring that to all my work.

Your character lives by the life motto, "Hakuna Matata," meaning "no worries for the rest of your days." Is there a motto that you live by? If so, could you explain?

Hakuna Matata is a pretty good one. Being of the Jewish faith, I was brought up to believe in the idea of "Tikkun Olam", which translated means " to heal the world". If we all tried to just make the world a little better, what a difference we could make. To me that idea is embodied in the character of "Pumbaa."

Finally, what is one thing you hope audiences will take away from the show?

It is my fervent hope that our audience is changed for the better from experiencing THE LION KING. The beauty, the vision and the storytelling can touch us on the deepest level. I want audiences to see more possibilities in life. More things that we, as different cultures, and people, have in common.

For tickets and a full tour schedule, visit

Giraffes strut, birds swoop, gazelles leap - the entire Serengeti comes to life. And as the music soars, Pride Rock slowly rises from the stage. This is THE LION KING. A spectacular visual feast, this adaptation of Disney's much-loved film transports you to a dazzling world that explodes with glorious colors, stunning effects and enchanting music. At its heart is the powerful and moving story of Simba, and his epic journey from wide-eyed cub to his destined role as King of the Pridelands.

The Lion King won six 1998 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical, making Taymor the first woman in theatrical history bestowed with the honor. The Lion King has also earned more than 70 major arts awards including the 1998 NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the 1999 Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, the 1999 Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Event of the Year and the 1999 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Choreography and Best Costume Design.

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