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Friday January 28th

UNC Graduate Claws His Way Into Theater World

"It gets me fired up and makes me even more determined to do it," he said.

Tower's resolve to perform has him acting the lead role of Simba in the traveling tour of the hit musical "The Lion King."

In it, Tower plays a lion who loses his father at an early age.

Tower said he was interested in performing for as long as he could remember.

"We're all kind of acting in one way or another as a child," Tower said. "I've always loved it."

Tower grew up in Philadelphia and, with his sister, was raised by a single mother who adopted them when they were young.

He said his mom has always been a great influence on his life.

"She was a single white woman adopting two black kids in the '70s, which was unheard of," he said. "I've always admired her resilience and work ethic, and I've gotten a lot of inspiration from her."

He joined the choir in middle school and began acting with the drama club in 10th grade.

During the following two years of school, he combined his singing and acting skills in school performances of "The King and I" and "South Pacific."

High school graduation and enrollment in the Army did not end Tower's drive to perform.

"I would get in trouble for making fun of the drill sergeants in front of everyone," Tower said.

Tower left the Army after a year and simultaneously took on a full-time job and enrolled in a community college. Two years later, he transferred to Temple University and finally was able to return to acting.

Upon graduating from Temple with a bachelor's degree in theater, Tower decided to attend graduate school at UNC.

He said working with professionals such as drama Professor Ray Dooley in the classroom and on the stage helped him to understand the whole picture of acting.

Dooley said he recognized Tower's talent when he was still in the graduate program.

"His voice was in evidence even then," Dooley said. "He is blessed with a beautiful tenor voice and dance movement."

Tower said the skills he gained from the drama program here have been helpful in his acting since.

"You come out with a toolbox of knowledges and skills," Tower said. "You take out what you need when you need it."

After graduating in 1998, Tower moved to New York City to further his acting career. He attended many open auditions that did not require an agent to meet people and get his name out.

Tower got called back to audition for the musicals "Rent," "Ragtime" and "The Lion King." Though he accepted an offer for a role with the "Ragtime" company in Chicago, Tower said he always kept "The Lion King" in the back of his mind.

"It became my trophy, my big goal that I really wanted," he said.

Tower moved back to New York with "Ragtime" and spent a total of a year and a half with the company. During this time, Tower repeatedly auditioned for "The Lion King" with no positive feedback. He said he did not let this get him down.

"I call it the 'valley of preparation,'" Tower said. "You don't look at the time in a negative way. It's a time to get ready physically and mentally to perform your next gig."

Tower's waiting paid off when an offer came up for the understudy of the lead role Simba. He said working with the main Simba actor helped him understand the character. "It was a good opportunity to study the movement and technique associated with him," Tower said.

On Dec. 9, 2001, Tower's big moment finally arrived.

The actor who normally played Simba couldn't perform. For the next week, Tower got the opportunity to act on the Broadway stage. Soon after Disney producers attended one of his performances, Tower signed a one-year contract to play the role of Simba in a nationwide traveling tour of "The Lion King."

Preparation for each show begins as soon as Tower wakes up. The time of the performance dictates everything from what Tower eats to when he goes to bed. For the six days of the week the show is running, he dedicates himself to it completely.

Despite the hectic schedule, Tower said he appreciates being able to travel to different places and stay for several weeks at a time. "After September 11, it was great to get out of New York and see the country and get to know the natives of the area," he said.

Dooley attributes Tower's success with his determination to do well.

"He knew what he wanted and he was willing to work for it," he said.

Tower said he hopes eventually to get into film, where everyone will be able to afford to watch his performances.

But he also said nothing compares to performing onstage. "Movies get out to the masses, but it's not the same as a live audience applauding your performance every night," Tower said.

Tower said he believes his perseverance is what has gotten him where he is today. "Ride the wave; wherever it takes you, it takes you," he said. "The wave has taken me great places so far. I'm just trying to stay on top so I'm ready for the next thing."

The Features Editor can be reached at features@unc.edu.

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