Disneyland continues its celebration of Black Music Month this June, and invites you to Celebrate Soulfully with experiences that honor Black heritage and culture through music, food, art, and more, all taking place at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Part of that cultural celebration is recognizing the Black creators that help make it all possible. Disneyland’s newest show, Tale of the Lion King, now running Thursday through Monday at the Fantasyland Theatre, is a prime example of Disney magic created by Black women.
While previewing the new show ahead of its opening, ESSENCE spoke with Shemika Draughan, hair and makeup designer behind the style of the show’s dancers and actors, and Chef Natalie Willingham, the mastermind behind the culinary experience accompanying the performance.
“I’m super excited to be working on the show at this level, and super super excited to incorporate natural hair styling and just showing such a variety of styles and textures,” Draughan said.
For the cosmetology manager, the vision was all about being realistic and demonstrating styles that are recognizable for the audience as what is seen and worn in our day-to-day lives, while incorporating the look seamlessly into the story of The Lion King.
“For the dancers, most of my inspiration came from them,” she shared. “We wanted to be true to their individuality. For the principal dancers, since I am actually the second hair and makeup designer to work on this show, I ended up making some adjustments to the previous designs.”
These adjustments ended up giving Uncle Scar a more faded haircut with locs – a notably difficult look to achieve with wig styling – and giving Simba a shorter, more youthful loc-look.
Draughan has been with Disneyland Resort for ten years. She says Tale of the Lion King has been a highlight of her career, and she absolutely loves working alongside the directors, producers, and choreographers to make magic at the Fantasyland Theater five days a week.
For Chef Willingham, drawing inspiration from the story to incorporate authentic flavors from The Continent into the special menu at the Troubadour Tavern, located right next to Fantasyland Theater providing meals, snacks, and drinks that can be enjoyed along with the show, was a dream come true.
With options ranging from Salted Plantain Chips to Berbere-spice Popcorn, on to a surprisingly savory Chicken-coconut Curry Sweet Potato topped with crispy kale, Willingham managed to craft a menu that is authentic to flavors of The Continent, while still remaining accessible to people with more Americanized palates to easily enjoy.
“For inspiration, I did rewatch The Lion King to make sure I was on track, and I read through a lot of cookbooks, a lot of African menus, and just did a lot of research,” Willingham said of her prep process creating for the Lion King cuisine. “The berbere spice for the popcorn is actually very common in Ethiopian cuisine. The curry that we did on our sweet potato is actually inspired by Malawian curry. For our cold brew, I researched some of the African coffee traditions and did a play off of that with an American twist.”
Willingham, also a Disneyland Resort veteran, was thrilled to be given the freedom to play and create her own menu for Tale of the Lion King. Having been with the company for two decades, she says the storytelling is what makes working at Disneyland the happiest job on Earth.
“I don’t think that any other company has the ability to tell stories the way that Disney does,” Willingham said. “It’s a great partnership. Everyone here is truly a family. It’s great to have so many partners in so many different fields. Whatever you may need to be done, there is someone at Disney that can help you with it.”