From March 2020 to May 2021 the bright lights of Broadway were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the longest closure in its history.
Upon the reopening of New York City’s Theater District, “The Lion King,” the classic Tony award-winning musical based off of the Disney tale about Simba and Mufasa, returned to the Big Apple in September 2021.
Among the actors in the show, which has been on Broadway since 1997 and is currently playing at the Minksoff Theatre, is Bronx resident and Belize native, Jamie Thompson. Thompson, who made his Broadway debut with the ensemble in February 2019, plays a zebra, grass, hyena and other characters in the musical.
“I was nonchalant about going to the audition,” Thompson told the Bronx Times. “I thought I was going back to Jamaica and teach.”
Thompson, 34, grew up in Belize, a country in Central America and always wanted to be a dancer. However, as a kid he had no idea what, or where, Broadway was.
While music and dancing are a big part of the culture in Belize, his parents didn’t think it was a realistic profession for him. According to Thompson, his mom taught him how to dance, but he was never encouraged to take it too seriously.
Everything changed when he met missionaries in Belize who told him about a dance school in Houston, Texas. He applied for a fellowship with the program and spent the summer of 2006 in the Lone Star State.
“I didn’t realize what the possibilities were until I went for the summer program in Houston,” he said.
Thompson continued to learn more about dance, and in 2010 obtained a bachelor’s in fine arts from Belhaven University in Mississippi — a school noted for its commitment to the arts.
At first being in America was weird and he missed his family, but once Thompson started dancing, he felt at ease.
“The busier I got, the less I felt homesick,” Thompson said.
After college, he auditioned for a dance company in Texas, joining the Dallas Black Dance Theatre from 2010 to 2014. And since then, he’s performed with numerous companies, including ones in Washington, D.C., and Utah.
He also taught dance briefly in Jamaica, but in 2018 relocated to Harlem knowing he finally had a chance to be under the bright lights of Broadway. He auditioned for “The Lion King” three times before finally landing the role.
“It felt surreal,” Thompson said. “My family and country made a big deal about it. Hearing people cheer and how they respond to the show always gives me a pinch like ‘do you realize where you are?’”
During the COVID-19 pandemic he needed a change of scenery and moved to the Mott Haven section of the Bronx in April 2021. Thompson likes his new surroundings and its proximity to Manhattan.
“I was a little skeptical regarding the Bronx,” he said. “When you say the Bronx to anyone, they say ‘oh, my God, that’s so far.’”
Currently, he teaches ballet part time at New York University and is obtaining a master’s in organizational leadership from the University of Denver. He has also founded the Jamie Thompson Arts Foundation, a nonprofit that teaches art across BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities.
“The ongoing theme I have is gratitude,” he said. “I had to work really hard in my training. I just wanted to dance, and I knew I wanted to dance professionally.”
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (646) 899-8058. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes