NEW YORK—Just as how the flutter of a butterfly’s wings could eventually lead to a hurricane, Avon and Bernita Bellamy’s presence at “The Lion King” musical in 1998 may have forged the destiny of their unborn son.
“My wife wanted to see the show. I was adamantly against it because I had seen the cartoon and thought, what are they going to do on Broadway?” Bellamy said. From the moment the curtain lifted, he realized he was wrong.
The Bellamys were so profoundly impacted by the rich African culture embedded in the show that Bernita played “The Lion King songs” to her belly in 1999 when she was pregnant with her first born, Judah Bellamy—who now plays Simba on Broadway.
Judah has been “genetically tampered with. Who knows how affinity is created? It’s all his mom’s fault,” his father joked.
When Judah was 6, he announced he would play Simba one day on Broadway. With Judah’s father being a writer in Baltimore, and his mother a day care provider, the dream was brushed off as a childish fantasy.
“None of us can sing. It is just not a part of our make up. I’d probably be less surprised if they told me he could move objects with his mind,” his father said.
But not only could Judah sing, he also memorized the entire “The Lion King” script by age 5. He then moved on to memorizing the Danish and German versions.
His father could no longer ignore Judah’s wish when he turned 9, and began taking him to “Lion King” auditions.
Without ever taking a single singing or acting lesson, Judah left for his trip to New York. As a 4’3” 9-year-old, he walked into the large auditioning room, getting lost among 50 Simba hopefuls who were at least 3 inches taller than him.
To the judges’ surprise, the most regal, resounding voice bustled from the little body. But it was more than the voice that captured the directors’ attention; it was Judah’s passion for ” The Lion King” scenes, his striking familiarity and natural ease with the script, and his compelling bearing as Simba.
There was one small problem. He was too short for the role. Over the next two years, Judah was invited to audition five times. Although he was rejected each time, Judah held firmly to his dream.
“I’m going back to get it, at no time did I think I wasn’t going to get it,” he said. He got the auspicious phone call at age 11.
During one typical evening back in Baltimore, Judah and his two younger sisters were doing homework on the dining room table. The phone rang.
Judah, Avon, and Bernita picked up the telephone receiver from three different parts of the house. The call was from the Lion King company.
They knew Judah had been accepted, but they didn’t know from where. The Singapore and New York companies both had Simba openings.
“With my luck it would be Singapore,” Judah’s father thought, already picturing the complications and expenses of moving across the globe.
But Judah was going to Broadway, it was official. Although his dream finally came to fruition, strangely, at such a young age, Judah’s excitement did not affect his rationale. “I ate dinner… I went to bed, because, you know, I wouldn’t really do anything until a month later,” Judah said.
His father often commented on Judah’s “adult perception on life.” “I had a speech prepared to give him the bad news, but I never got a chance to give it,” his father joked.
Judah’s first four weeks on Broadway consisted strictly of trainings, with zero break days. But that did not stop Judah from being “a big ball of energy,” his father recalled.
“Everything he learned during the day he was doing it up the stairs,” his father said. “It’s like seeing the show over and over again.”
Even today, at age 13, “The Lion King” is still Judah’s favorite movie. He continues to sing “Into the Night” in the shower, which happens to be his favorite scene—where Simba meets his father’s spirit in the starry sky.
“I can sort of connect to the scene because I’ve had that situation with God,” Judah said.
Judah attributes his early success in life to this philosophy: “Everything in this world must have been made by a higher intelligence.”
“Think of the human brain. The brain is so complex, it has more connections than wires on a computer,” he said. “Who could have done such a thing? Someone more intelligent than us.”
Judah’s state of bliss was shaken by homesickness when his mother and sisters visited him after his first month in New York.
“I was so excited to come here that I totally forgot my family wouldn’t be with me,” Judah said. “It’s one of the mistakes I made.”
As his family was returning to Baltimore, Judah felt an anguish sting in his heart that led him to consider quitting the show.
His father “laments the loss of the childhood moments [Judah] might be missing, but he’s connecting with his siblings in a deeper way, now that they know the rift of his choices exist.”
The Bellamys make an effort to reunite every two weeks. With Judah only getting Mondays off, and not getting home until past midnight during days with evening performances, he gets little time to see his family, even when they visit New York.
One of his fondest memories is not performing on stage in front of thousands, but going to Disney World with his whole family. Judah has two younger sisters, ages 6 and 10. “We savor every moment we have together,” Judah said.
His father said he noticed a barrier between Judah and other children his age. “He is an adult in his pursuit of life, but in other ways he’s still a kid.”
But geniuses will meet other geniuses. Apart from performing six days a week, Judah and one of his closest friends, Elijah McDaniels, who is not yet 10 years old, spend their free time reading and writing screenplays.
Judah aspires to be a screenwriter, director, and film actor after his Simba days are over. He recently completed an independent film with Jono Oliver, an award-winning director. The film, called “Home,” is about the complex relationship between a mentally ill father and his young son. The director was originally looking for younger actors for the role of the son, but out of an array of actors, Judah was chosen for his “nuance” in the difficult role, his father said.
Although Judah has had a string of luck in his acting career, in his father’s eyes, the most important thing Judah has learned is having compassion and love for others.
“I always told him don’t focus on what not to do, but what you can do,” his father said. His father grinned as Judah leaped to help pick up the broken pieces of a plate that smashed nearby.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, that was a reflex,” Judah said as he returned to the interview