Fans went crazy when they found out that Beyonce was going to be playing Nala in the live action version of The Lion King but it turns out that Nala been in the Bee Hive. Disney has been producing Broadway Shows for 25 years and their casts are diverse with many Black actors in lead roles. Lion King, which has been running on Broadway for 21 years features a cast that’s over 90%, Black. Great Broadway actors like Bradley Gibson as Simba and L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa and Bee Hive member Syndee Winters who plays Nala, who is willing to give Beyonce all the pointers she wants.
Syndee told us, “I feel like I’m apart of the beehive honey, yes. Bey, call me any time if you have notes or questions (laughs). I’ve been a part of the show since 2010 and I’ve gone off and done other shows and been apart of other productions. Coming back, this is my first week in the “pride lands” is what we call them and it is no less exciting than when I started in 2010. With the knowledge that the movie is coming out, it’s major. There is some young girl right now that is going to watch that movie like I did when I was little and say, “I want to do that, I’m obsessed with that or Mommy, stream it.”
Syndee who has been in hit plays like Hamilton and Motown recalls using her allowance money to buy a Lion King tape and making her parents listen and sing along to it all the time, “When I heard “Shadow Land” for the first time when it was apart of the musical, I cried. The first time I heard my voice in Heather Headley. I said I don’t care where I’m at I’m going to sing that song, in church, school, the supermarket. The universe just blessed me with the opportunity one day to finally sing that song. I couldn’t be more proud to be representing the “Nala” on Broadway and my Lion sister Beyoncé in the film! (laughs). I’m hype!.
For Black children all over getting to see Black actors shine on the stage in lead roles has a lasting impact on them. Plus these days tickets are very affordable and a great thing to do for Black History Month. Tickets start at $99 and lottery seats are available for only $30. You can also check with the Theater Development Fund (TDF) which has a membership-based program (membership only $40) to qualifying individuals such as teachers, non-profit groups, freelancers, etc., to purchase tickets at discounted prices. Many are $49. Also if you go to TKTS booth you can get same-day ticket sales at discounted prices.
Check out our Q&A with the cast below that was done by our correspondent Dantee Ramos.
What is the process like to audition in this industry, on top of that being a person of color?
Bradley Gibson: As far as auditioning goes you know, you hear way more No’s than you hear Yes. That can be hard on your heart and on your spirit to keep going. How do you keep going on auditions when you’re hearing more noes than yes? But through those noes, you hear the yeses and get the opportunity to do amazing things. You get a chance to stretch beyond what you think you can do. I think every job that I take I see the growth in myself, that’s kind of what keeps you going. You never want to be stale and you want to grow and say yes to the scary things, whether it be vocally terrifying or physically terrifying or an extreme text like Shakespeare that you are not used to. I try my best to say “yes” to things that scare me to death and if its scary I know I’m making the right choice. The Lion King was incredibly scary because I always said Simba was my first superhero. It’s the first movie I ever saw in the movie theatre with my mom, that I looked to my left at her and she was crying, she was invested into the story just as much as I was. I knew it was deeper than a cartoon, this story is about animals but it’s the most human story on the planet. So getting the opportunity to play Simba this superhero on stage every night for 700 people in a Disney show that’s been running for 21 years that’s a little scary.
You talk about James Earl Jones legacy before you but, what does it feel like to be forming your own legacy on stage?, for all these little black boys to be looking up to you. What do you want your legacy to be?
L. Steven Taylor: Oh man, I love it, it’s such a blessing to just be in the show. Representation matters. Not only for little black boys and little black girls, but you know for little white kids too, who are sitting watching TV they see black people being represented in a very different way than when they come to see our show. When they come to our show they see black Kings and Queens. Strong female leadership in our show as well, it’s a blessing to be that representation and I throw my own stank on it, cause Black Panther came out and it influenced a whole different set ideas of how I looked at that character. I’m into Martial arts, once I started taking Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, then I started looking at Bolognese heavy martial arts influence, there are all of these different elements that I’ve been able to take from my own life to put into that but, ultimately I would hope that the people who see it, especially the young kids would walk away proud. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind is pride, this is apart of you too.