Tiffany Denise Hobbs has done plenty in her film and theatre career, but there is something very special about her latest endeavor.
Hobbs finds herself touring with the worldwide Broadway sensation “The Lion King,” which anchors in San Jose beginning Thursday, Sept. 10th. The show has garnered much acclaim, winning six Tony Awards, including the coveted best musical back in 1998. It is also the highest grossing show in Broadway history, heading towards $1.2 billion in sales.
Hobbs plays the role of Shenzi, the female hyena who is the right-hand henchwoman of the evil Scar.
The 28-year-old native of Georgia has two degrees from the University of Georgia and a Master of Fine Arts from Southern Methodist University. In this interview, she dishes on what it means to be a part of such a prestigious show, the challenges in the business, and who she likes to sneak a peek at while waiting in the wings.
DJC: You have had some wonderful successes on stage and screen, and “The Lion King” is your latest endeavor. What does being a part of such an iconic and inventive show, originally directed by Julie Taymor, mean to you at this part of your career?
TDH: I count this as one of my greatest successes as a theater actress thus far. I have always envisioned myself being in a hit Broadway musical, and “The Lion King” is all that and more. I grew up on Disney movies, and “The Lion King” was always one of my favorites. When I found out it was being made into a Broadway musical, my 11-year-old self was ecstatic. After seeing the show in college, I was moved and inspired in a way that I’d never experience before as an artist: to see a piece of such grandeur and full of artists that looked like me was very inspiring. I remember walking out of the Fox Theater in Atlanta thinking, “There’s a place for me in the theater,” and that’s a beautiful thing that “The Lion King” did, and continues to, remind me.
DJC: “The Lion King” is one of the most inventive interpretations of a Disney cartoon in Broadway history. For you, why does this story still maintain its freshness, even after debuting in 1997, almost 18 years ago?
TDH: “The Lion King” is a story about humanity. And it exposes the lightness and darkness of the human condition in a way that is accessible for both children and adults. The study of human kind is timeless and, when done in such a beautiful, fun way as in “The Lion King,” people can’t help to find it relevant and desire to come out in droves (multiple times, even).
DJC: There are many demands on the road, and you certainly have had to perform despite probably not feeling 100 percent. How are you able to keep up with the rigors of life on the road and the grueling physicality that the show demands on its performers?
TDH: I make it a point to work out to maintain stamina, flexibility and overall health in general. I also give myself a break when necessary by sleeping in, doing nothing related to work for a few hours (or days) at a time, napping, going to a spa, and getting massages. I also take time to call my family and friends. Sometimes I meditate. Balance is key – not just on tour, but also in life. This experience is certainly helping me to establish what that means for me, and hopefully I will carry this newfound knowledge with me well beyond my time on tour.
DJC: What have been some of the struggles you have faced in your career? What were some of the adversities you have faced as a young performer that has made this experience so much sweeter?
TDH: This business is hard because there is so much outside of your control. You can go to the best theater school in the country, have the best agent in the States, and be a strong and hard worker, yet never get past initial auditions. The business for actors is very subjective, and it can get pretty frustrating waiting for your “big break.” Nevertheless, I believe success in this field is possible. I am a living testament of that. Sometimes you just have to wait while you watch others around you soar high in the business. But that’s okay. At the end of the day, you have to only concern yourself with your own journey and always work hard to improve you. I believe that, for those of us that don’t get the opportunities handed to us quickly but still manage to work smart and hard at our craft, end up with residual effects that will have us receiving opportunities of a lifetime for years to come…even if we have to wait a while before they start coming in.
DJC: Other than the character you play, is there a character in the show that stands out for you, someone you find yourself watching while waiting in the wings?
TDH: The cheetah. When I first saw the show, I was so intrigued by the cheetah puppet and the woman articulating and moving within and throughout it. There was something so graceful and, at the same time, mysterious about this particular animal in the Pridelands that my eye always went to her when she was onstage. When I got cast in the show and went to watch the show during my rehearsals, that same experience occurred for me again. Though the cheetah never says anything in the show, I always find myself wanting to know her story whenever I watch (and, yes, I steal away to watch her in the wings from time-to-time).
DJC: What is something you had to learn on the road that you could not learn in any of your training?
TDH: Maintaining close relationships from a distance. I’ve been away from home since going to college, but always had the option and flexibility of traveling home every now and then. Now my schedule is a little more rigid. But, thanks to modern technology, I am able to see the faces of loved ones and talk to them on a daily basis, which helps to ease the strain that being away can put on relationships.
- Favorite food? Eggplant Parmesan
- Person who has inspired your career? Viola Davis
- Favorite guilty pleasure? Shopping
- Favorite book? “No Disrespect” by Sista Soulja
- TV show you can binge watch in a day? Parenthood
- Favorite movie? The Shawshank Redemption
- Thing you are most looking forward to when you come to San Jose and the Bay Area? Seeing old friends and sites in nature since my first time there in 2011.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Broadway San Jose presents “The Lion King”
Music by Elton John
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Sept. 10th – Oct. 4th
Tickets range from $33 – $98
San Jose Center for Performing Arts
255 Almaden Boulevard San Jose, CA 95113
For more information, call (800) 982-ARTS (2787) or visit the official website