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Not My Job: We Ask The Choreographer Of 'The Lion King' About Lying Kings


Last fall we went to Rochester, N.Y., where we met the dancer and choreographer Garth Fagan. He's best known for choreographing the musical "The Lion King."

BILL KURTIS: We ask him about his long trip to upstate New York from his birthplace in the Caribbean.


GARTH FAGAN: Yeah. I'd danced with Ivy Baxter National Company in Jamaica.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAGAN: And they traveled around the world, wore beautiful clothes, drove fancy cars and shallow, shallow empty reasons, I was thrilled to do it.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: So you weren't interested in dance because of the aesthetic pleasures of beauty?

FAGAN: No. No. No. No.

SAGAL: You wanted to live that legendary, fast living, international dancer lifestyle?

FAGAN: Hallelujah.

SAGAL: Yeah.



SAGAL: Did that ultimately work out for you? Did you live a life of luxury and ease?

FAGAN: Oh, luxury, yes. Ease, never when you choreograph human beings.


SAGAL: Oh, that's the problem. We were reading that your father was not happy with your choice of a career. Is that the case?

FAGAN: Absolutely not. He's a Oxford man, Oxford graduate. But he wanted me to be a doctor like him. And, you know, something more respectable than dancing. But I have 11 or 12 honorary doctorates. So daddy, I'm doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor.


SAGAL: Was his attitude, well, that's fine for a hobby, but how are you going to make a living?


FAGAN: Yes. And in fairness to him, in '73 I didn't know why I was driven to take the company to Jamaica.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAGAN: And I charged airline tickets and hotel on his American Express card (laughter).


SAGAL: Now wait a minute, this is great. He, who didn't want you to be a dancer, paid for your tour to Jamaica.

FAGAN: Right.

SAGAL: And what did he say when he got that bill?

FAGAN: Well, when he came to the show he came backstage. And he was sweetness and like, my son the choreographer. And the dancers said, you said he was so mean, what a lovely man.



FAGAN: (Laughter) You know, and my brothers and sisters are looking at like, we don't know this guy (laughter).


FAGAN: But when I told him, I said, dad, I have to tell you something. I charged this trip on your account. And I'll pay it back to you in four or five installments. And that beloved man said you don't owe me a dime.


AMY DICKINSON: What a story, wow.

FAGAN: Just beautiful.


PAULA POUNDSTONE: Boy, I feel like a sucky parent now.


SAGAL: So Garth, let's talk about "The Lion King." This is the smash Broadway show running for 20 years now. You choreograph these amazing sequences with dancers and puppets of animals that they're performing. How in the world did you figure out how, for example, a giraffe should dance?


FAGAN: Well, happily, when I did "Lion King" I'd been to Africa seven times before.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAGAN: And I'd been on safaris. So I had a really good idea of how they should move. The only problem is they don't have to do eight shows a week.


SAGAL: The giraffe, the actual giraffe?

FAGAN: (Laughter) Right.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAGAN: And my dancers had to do eight shows a week. So I had to keep that in mind that it should look like the animal, but there's a human being in there...

SAGAL: Right.

FAGAN: ...Who has muscles that ache and bones that get fractured. And, you know...

SAGAL: Geez...

FAGAN: Yeah. And wives and husbands and lovers and mistresses that go AWOL (laughter).


SAGAL: You have to be - you have to keep the mistresses in mind.

FAGAN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.


POUNDSTONE: You know, it's a little-known fact that gazelles on the Serengeti got together at one point and said to their parents, look, we got seven safaris a week.


POUNDSTONE: You know, what do you say we use four legs and walk a shorter distance?


SAGAL: Well, Garth Fagan, what a pleasure to meet you and talk to you. We have asked you here today to play a game this time we're calling...

KURTIS: "Lion King," meet the lying king.


SAGAL: So as we discussed, you helped create "The Lion King," which made us wonder, what would you know about the kings of lying? That is, really deceitful people. Answer three questions about people who were royally dishonest and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is choreographer Garth Fagan playing for?

KURTIS: Audrey Middleton (ph) of Rochester, N.Y.


SAGAL: There you go. You ready to do this?

FAGAN: Yes, sir.

SAGAL: All right, here's your first question. In 2014, French authorities launched a month-long investigation into a kidnapping that was based on a lie. Which of these was it? A, a woman was embarrassed her friends spotted her on a date with a dorky guy, so she said he had kidnapped her; B, a young boy who made up a kidnapping just to get out of going to the dentist; or C, a couple who wanted to visit Paris but couldn't afford the fare, so they said they were kidnapped so the police would take them, quote, "home?"


FAGAN: I think it was the couple who wanted to get kidnapped thrown out of court go into (imitating French accent) Paris.

SAGAL: You know, Paris is worth it. But in fact, it was the young boy. He really didn't want to go to the dentist. They found him hiding. They said what - he said, oh, I was kidnapped. That's why I'm not at the dentist. It took them a month to figure that out. Here's your next question. Every year, England holds the world's biggest liar festival for when people from around the globe are given five minutes to tell the most convincing lie they can. There's only one rule - what? A, the contestants are required to tell the lies while looking into the eyes of their disapproving mothers?


SAGAL: B, politicians and lawyers are not allowed to enter the competition...


SAGAL: ...Because they're, quote, "too skilled at telling lies"; or C, the lies have to be told while the contestants' pants are literally on fire?



SAGAL: It is, in fact, B. B.



SAGAL: Last question. Lies have played an important role in American history, such as, well, in which of these cases? A, in 1860, a lobbyist made up the word Idaho, said it was a Native American word and named a state after it; B, in 1884, the Republican Party created a completely fictional presidential candidate with the unlikely name of Grover Cleveland?


SAGAL: Or C, Democracy itself is a lie - am I right, sheeple (ph)?



SAGAL: It is, in fact, A.



SAGAL: Idaho is not a real Native American word. But it sure sounds like one, doesn't it? It was made up by a lobbyist. Bill, how did Garth Fagan do on our quiz?

KURTIS: It's the circle of life, 2 out of 3. Win.


SAGAL: Garth Fagan is a Tony Award-winning choreographer. You can find more information about his dance company at Garth Fagan, thank you so much...


FAGAN: Thank you, Peter. Thank you.

SAGAL: ...For joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. (Unintelligible).

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WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME is a production of NPR and WBEZ Chicago in association with Urgent Haircut Productions. Doug Berman, benevolent overlord. Philipp Goedicke writes our limericks. Our house manager is Tyler Greene. Our intern is Layne Gerbig. Our web guru is Beth Novey. BJ Leiderman composed our theme. Our program is produced by Jennifer lonely grandpa Mills and Miles Doornbos. Technical direction is from Lorna White. Our CFO is Ann Nguyen. Production coordinator, that's Robert Neuhaus. The senior producer is Ian Chillag, and the executive producer of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME is Mr. Michael Danforth.

Thanks to everybody you heard on our show today, including, of course, Bill Kurtis, all of our panelists, our talented guest host Jessi Klein, the amazing and immortal Carl Kasell and, of course, you for listening. I am Peter Sagal. We will see you all next week.


SAGAL: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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