Royal homecoming

Tuesday will be a homecoming for Cleveland native Paul Sadler. He will get to perform in front of family and friends when ”Disney’s The Lion King” starts a four-week run at PlayhouseSquare’s State Theatre.

”My mom has 47 people coming that first night,” Sadler said during a telephone interview from Tulsa.

Sadler is in his 12th year with the national tour of the musical that won six Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and still is playing on Broadway after 15 years. However, this will be his first chance to do it in Cleveland.

The first time the show came to PlayhouseSquare, Sadler was rehabbing a torn anterior cruciate ligament and unable to perform. The different touring cast played Cleveland the last time ”The Lion King” was here.

Sadler made his Broadway debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ”Phantom of the Opera” and was doing that show when he auditioned for ”The Lion King.”

”After it opened, all of my friends said, ‘Paul, you are perfect for this show’,” he said.

In addition to his stage background, Sadler is a trained dancer, studying with Cleveland Ballet and at Alvin Ailey’s school. Sadler was part of the first graduating class in the mid-’80s from the Cleveland School of the Arts, and while there he earned a scholarship to study with Cleveland Ballet and danced in its annual production of ”The Nutcracker.” All of those experiences helped prepare him for ”The Lion King.”

”I had gone in for the show maybe four times,” he said. ”At that point they asked if I was interested (in one of the other permanent productions), but I really wanted to see the country. I wanted to get on the road.”

Once he was cast, though, he had to learn to move like an animal and manipulate the puppets/costumes created by director Julie Taymor.

”I’m a man, not a zebra,” Sadler said. ”I had to wrap my brain around the idea I have to convey how a zebra is.”

More importantly, he had to make it look effortless while operating a costume that weighed more than 30 pounds (he now plays the lighter zebra, using a costume that weighs about 24 pounds).

”With that weight sitting on your shoulders, you have to smile, you have to prance, you have to look light on your feet and you have to time it just right,” he said.

He’s turned life on the road into an educational experience, not only for himself and his wife but for their two children, who are 11 and 16.

”Seeing the country we live in, there are so many great cities,” he said. ”You can learn stuff in school but to actually go see Louis & Clark’s trail, to go to the Lone Star state and see The Alamo, to go to the Lorraine hotel in Memphis and seeing where Martin Luther King was shot, you can’t put that into words.”

Sadler never imagined he’d be with the same show for more than a decade, but now he plans to stay ”as long as they will have me.

”I’m one of those people for whom less is more. As long as I have the opportunity to get on stage and perform and see people’s faces light up with joy and amazement, that’s what I want to do.”