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February 5, 2013

Farmington native brings the lights of Broadway back to Detroit

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

John Sloan III

Broadway singer John Sloan III has performed in prestigious theaters across the country. But for him, there are no stage lights quite as bright as the ones that welcome him home in Detroit.

Sloan, 29, is an ensemble performer and understudy in Disney’s musical hit “The Lion King.” As part of the nationally touring cast, Sloan has been on the road singing and performing for audiences across the country for several years.

“It’s crazy. My second day on tour was my 24th birthday, and I will be 30 in July,” he said. “It’s been a weird, wonderful experience to spend the bulk of my 20s out here on the road.”

The Broadway star wasn’t always as well traveled as he is now, though. It wasn’t long ago that he was wowing audiences in Farmington, where he first began his vocal training. His mother, Brenda Sloan, is a music instructor for Farmington Public Schools, and Sloan said she recognized his talent for music from an early age.

“She put me in front of a piano when I was 3, and put a violin in my hands when I was 4,” he said. “In school, I had a lot of choral training. I did all-state choir, went to Interlochen camps, and after high school, I studied at the University of Michigan.”

Sloan graduated from Farmington High School a year early, and before that he had attended International Academy in Bloomfield Hills. After he graduated from college, it wasn’t long before he made a name for himself in the musical theater world, snagging rolls in shows like “Aida,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and “Julius X.”

For five years, he’s spent his time traveling and putting on eight shows a week. Sometimes, he said, he’s singing in the ensemble, and other times he’s playing the part of Banzai, one of the show’s three comical hyenas. The workload is staggering, but it’s a job he said he feels blessed to have.

“I think ‘The Lion King’ was the first and last movie I stood in line for to see on opening day,” he said. “We have so many different elements of this show. It’s a father teaching a son about becoming a man. It’s a woman growing into adulthood and finding her own voice. It’s a community coming together to combat senseless violence. Anybody can relate to (these stories).”

Every performance is special, Sloan insists, but he said he’s getting nervous to perform in front of his family and friends when the show makes its long-awaited return to the Detroit Opera House Feb. 13-March 10.

“I’m fighting the urge to make this show the biggest and best that I’ve ever done in my life because I’m home.”

He’s not the only one excited for the show’s Detroit engagement. His mother said that she, along with Sloan’s father and siblings, are getting excited to have the star back at home for a few weeks.

“We don’t get a chance to see him often, so it’s going to be quite a pleasure to have him here,” said Brenda Sloan.

But for Sloan, the trip home won’t be just about performing and catching up with loved ones. He said he has some important work to do while he’s back in metro Detroit — the area that did so much to help him build his career from a young age.

“I started The Helping Hands Campaign, so as we go to different cities across the country, we do different outreach events. It could be food drives in Denver or master classes. … I love my work and the fact that what we do for a living can bring joy for so many people, but I want to make sure that we give back.”

The Helping Hands Campaign has gained a lot of momentum since Sloan first founded the initiative in 2011. From Buffalo to New Orleans, the production has hosted charitable events in many of the cities it’s stopped in, and other Broadway shows like “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys” have joined in the effort, as well.

While “The Lion King” performers are in the Detroit area, Sloan said HCC plans to host dance and vocal classes for young artists. Kids interested in going into the performing arts someday will get the chance to be coached in their craft by cast members of “The Lion King,” after which they’ll go through a round of mock auditions to see what it’s really like to be a part of the musical theater industry.

“He has heart and passion, and we are all, his dad and I and his brother and sister, are so proud that he remembers to give back to the community,” said Brenda Sloan.

Which is his favorite part of touring with “The Lion King” is probably a draw for Sloan — performing or interacting with the community members in each new town. Either way, he knows he’s building a powerful and memorable tale.

“The goal of any artist is to tell a story, whether it’s through visual arts or dance or spoken word. In a large sense, my favorite part of getting up on stage is the ability to tell that story and to come together with artists to communicate a story that has implication.” 

Tickets to see “The Lion King” at the Detroit Opera House can be purchased by phone at (866) 870-2717 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

For more information on The Helping Hands Campaign, visit www.helpinghandscampaign.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.