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Lion King's Josh Quong Tart eager to show his bad side

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For someone who has spent a lot of his career being beamed into lounge rooms via television, Josh Quong Tart is really proving himself to be a stage animal.

Rehearsing for The Lion King, where he plays the devious Scar, the actor is clearly relishing taking on the role of the villain in the upcoming production of the Disney musical.

It's the first day the principal cast have had a chance to workshop with the ensemble, and the whole animal kingdom is belting out the show's joyous opening number, The Circle Of Life.

There's a hush as the following scene starts. Quong Tart, known for roles in Home And Away, All Saints and Underbelly: Badness, struts on to the stage area through teams of dancers, singers and production crew.

He has a mask and just the bare bones of his costume; ornate boots with a stacked heel, attachments to his fingers that give them an elongated and curiously sinister quality, and what looks like an exoskeleton on his back.

His deliciously evil manner, teamed with the calculated movement of his hands and mask reveal an actor thoroughly enjoying his tantalisingly wicked character - it's obvious there's just something about being a baddie.

"He's almost always moving because he's always scheming," Quong Tart says. "It's fun."

"I've got a bit of a Linda Blair motif going on with the hands; they're possessed by something. It's just getting used to all of those elements, because more and more is going to get added as they get built on to you, and the make-up as well."

Discharged of his rehearsal duties, Quong Tart heads towards the makeup area so he can undergo another layer of transformation - the dramatic face paint that gives his character the unmistakable look of Simba's plotting uncle.

"I love it," he says of his time in the makeup chair.

"You know what? It's a lot better than watching yourself on television in a soap. Watching that," he says, gesturing to his makeup, "I can look at it all day."

Quong Tart sits down with makeup artist Lou Kgomo, who is working on her sixth production of The Lion King. She started on the first Sydney production in 2003 and has since travelled with the show working in Taipei, Singapore, China and South Africa.

Kgomo applies makeup in careful stages, and uses sharp angles to perfect Scar's look. It's a time-consuming ritual that will be repeated every night before a show.

"Forty-five minutes is all that we have for this makeup, and 15 minutes to get into costume and wig," she says.

"It's like you're getting on artillery," Quong Tart says.

The stage show, based on the 1994 film of the same name, debuted in the US in 1997; since then it's been seen by 68 million people. Quong Tart sees the makeup as part of The Lion King's heritage as a musical.

"I'm not doing anything," he says. "That's the thing with the costume and the makeup; it tells you how to play it. Then it becomes personal - everyone has a really personal approach to the roles.

"Some people look at makeup like this and think it's limiting but it's actually not. It's history, it's dreams - it's just incredible. That's what I get excited about."

There's also a strict schedule with this Disney production. While wigs have arrived in courier's boxes, they can't be revealed to the performers until they've been styled to each character's requirements. So they remain out of view, and Quong Tart is happy to create a character in stages.

"This is what they do so well in the show - they hold presents back from you; they won't let you be with the amazing singers. You just want to meet them, but they say; no, get your stuff right first and then you can, so when that happens you're like … ah!

"Then you have your makeup done, and the costumes - you feel like they're just teasing you. When that moment happens, it's an amazing gift. When all of that stuff is put together, then that final piece of the puzzle is made, then you go, right: I'm Scar.

"So I'm not Scar yet - that's what I think. I'm Scar in progress."


twitter @VictoriaHannaford

The Lion King, Capitol Theatre, 13 Campbell St, Haymarket; previews December 5-11, show opens December 13, $50-$150, ticketmaster.com.au

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