The Lion King Duo Fred Berman & Ben Jeffrey Will Make You Laugh as They Talk Nerd Stuff, Bryan Cranston & Spooning
August 28th, 2014
by Josh Ferri
Disney’s iconic musical The Lion King is filled with a colorful cast of characters, but let’s be real: who’s better than Timon and Pumbaa?! They have the best jokes, they sing “Hakuna Matata” and they are there when their pal Simba really needs them. Broadway audiences are especially lucky because the pair of lovable sidekicks is expertly played in the New York production by Fred Berman (Timon, left) and Ben Jeffrey (Pumbaa, right). These guys will have you laughing at the Minskoff Theatre, and they will have you laughing now as read what they have to say about their onstage and offstage antics.
My first impression of my co-star was:
“Is Disney going to let him keep that beard???” (Ben was rather hirsute when we first met) Quickly followed by, “Oh, thank God, he seems fairly normal.”
Wow, I am literally about three of him in overall mass. We will have instant comedy. Just standing next to each other is funny. I really hope America thinks we're as funny together as I do...
I think what makes our performances gel so well together:
First off, we have a FANTASTIC double-seat reclining Barcalounger in our dressing room where we often takes naps between shows side by side while wearing Snuggies. OCCASIONALLY there’s some light spooning. But it’s a well-known fact, from Burton and Harris to Lansbury and Seldes, that backstage co-napping adds to on-stage chemistry.
I think it also helps that we both came into the show at the same time and as complete Lion King newbies; I hadn’t even seen the show at that point. We were afforded a wonderful rehearsal process where we were really able to form our relationship from the ground up and create everything completely fresh. I think it also helps that we’re both really game to play and try new things. Even if something doesn’t work, we always have each other’s backs. Especially when spooning in the Barcalounger.
Fred is one of the quickest people I've ever worked with. He can come up with a thousand different ideas in a matter of seconds, and they're ALL funny. But he's also very giving and willing to share the funny, so his ideas are always inclusive of the other people on stage, including me. We discovered early on that we both of a strong sense of play and we both really enjoy messing with each other. Also, if you ever look at our dressing room and see the vast array of nerd paraphernalia (swords and sci-fi stuff for me, album covers and comic books for him), you'll realize the true key to our chemistry on stage and off: we are both still adolescent teens on the inside. But now, we're adolescent teens with Broadway jobs.
My favorite moment onstage with him is:
I tend to like the quieter moments that Timon and Pumbaa have in the show. There’s a moment right before “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” where we come out to find Simba and Nala. Timon says, “I’ll tell ya, Pumbaa, this stinks.” Pumbaa responds with the line, “Oh...sorry,” referencing his gaseous nature. The way Ben delivers that line is PERFECT. He keeps it so simple and completely sincere; his reaction is almost heartbreaking. He doesn’t play the joke at all; no indicating or physical shtick. He just says it honestly, and the truth of that moment KILLS every time. The best times being when the audience doesn’t quite get it at first, and then there’s that slow, rolling rumble of laughter as it slowly sinks in. When it works (which is most nights), it’s a fantastic moment. Of course, now that I’ve written about it publicly, I’ve probably ruined that moment forever. Thanks Broadway Box!!!! (And Ben, don’t let it go to your head.)
I don't want to give away our best shtick, but there' a moment at the beginning of our very first scene that never gets old for me, even after four years of performing together. Part of the reason it's still so fun is that Fred and I LISTEN to each other, and even after a long time on the same show, we still find ways to play and keep it fresh, so it's never quite the same from night to night. But it's always fun.
My most memorable performance we’ve shared has to be when:
Without a doubt, it was our performance at this year’s Easter Bonnet show. Side by side, sweating profusely, and leaving no un-waxed body part unturned, Ben and I danced our un-coordinated hearts out to Frank Stallone’s “Far From Over” and, against all odds and reason, ended up winning the Grand Prize for Best Presentation. There are not many people who can say that, together as a team, they were handed an award by Denzel Washington and Bryan Cranston while wearing nothing but shiny red short-shorts, headbands, and sequined fanny-packs. It makes me tear up a little just thinking about it.
Our best performance was actually outside The Lion King, for the Easter Bonnet performance this past year. Fred and I were joking that all The Lion King ever does for fundraiser shows are these incredible dance numbers with all of our amazing dancers, and wouldn't it be hilarious if they did something that featured Fred and I dancing (which neither of us do—like, at all). Well, the cast ended up jumping on board with that idea, and in a small matter of weeks, Fred and I were wearing red sparkly booty shorts, headbands, knee high socks, and a whole lot of oil and glitter, and dancing our way around the stage of the Minskoff to Frank Stallone's "Far From Over" (a true forgotten gem of the American music industry). Miracle of miracles, apparently watching two pasty, hairy, sweaty guys pretend they can dance wins you competitions! I got to meet Bryan Cranston in sparkly red booty shorts and say, "This is exactly how I wanted to meet you." I've never felt like such rock star. And credit where credit is due: the whole idea was Fred's brainchild. All I did was help.
My co-star and I bond over:
We have a big black foam roller in our dressing room that we affectionately call “The Dookie Stick.” Sometimes we hit each other with it. We also have a 3-foot Darth Vader figure wearing a lei and standing protectively over a large demonic-looking porcelain Terrier. There are several pictures of Mr. T in our bathroom. There are also several light-sabers and real swords hanging on the wall, and our stage management team is frequently telling us to shut our door because we’re being too noisy. So, I think it’s quite obvious that Ben and I bond over a heightened sense of maturity, elegance, and sophistication, no?
Nerd Stuff. Game of Thrones, Star Wars, comic book stuff, Harry Potter...if it's something that makes women not interested in you, chances are Fred and I like it and are enthusiastic about it when we're together.
I’m envious of my co-star’s ability to:
Shut out my constant complaining about how I ate too much before going on stage. Also, Ben has quite the finely tuned palate. He also owns swords. He’s much more of a man than I am.
I don't think Fred is ever out of his element. He could walk into pretty much any scenario, any group, ANYTHING, and be right at home and people would love him. He has so many interests that it's never a challenge for him to find something in common with just about anyone. I'm no wallflower, but Fred is uniquely gifted at being himself and letting other people be themselves around him. It helps that he's devilishly handsome, charming, and talented. Man...I just HATE that guy....
If I had to describe my co-star in a Disney song, it would be:
“Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas. Not because the song reminds me of Ben, necessarily, but because I’d love to see him dressed up in a little Pocahontas animal-skin dress, singing on top of a big mountain to the eagles and the bears.
Definitely "He's a Tramp" form Lady and the Tramp.
Let Fred Berman and Ben Jeffrey bring a smile to your face as Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre.