With The Lion King celebrating its 20th Anniversary in the West End on the 20th October as well as embarking on a brand new UK tour, we chatted to West End cast members Nick Afoa (Simba) and Janique Charles (Nala) about the production.
How does it feel to be part of The Lion King?
Janique Charles: For me, this is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a performer, I’ve always wanted to work with Disney, and here I am, performing as adult Nala in The Lion King West End.
Nick Afoa: Yeah, it feels incredibly rewarding to be in the position where I can enjoy what artistic gifts I’ve been blessed with, but also to give back – it’s something that I’ve always felt was important ever since I was a child – the things I have are not just for me, they should be shared.
What do you think has been the secret to its success over the last twenty years?
Janique: I think over the last twenty years The Lion King has done well by telling its story through the actors and the performers that come from all over the world. We each have our own individual stories to tell, and the show has so many different themes, human themes, that resonate with every one of us. So when we’re on stage – and I believe it would have been
this way for the performers back in 1999 when the show opened – we understand the story because it resonates with our lives, and we’re able to tell that truthfully.
Nick: The reason The Lion King has been so successful for the last twenty years is because it’s got something for everybody: it’s got humour, it’s got a touching story, it has some incredibly colourful characters set to the beautiful background of South Africa. It’s effective, because you have all of these coming together to create something amazing.
What was your first experience of seeing The Lion King?
Janique: I cried; I couldn’t stop crying. I know that The Lion King has one of the best opening numbers in musical theatre, like ever, and when you see it, you realise why. You’re just inundated with all these sensory things, and with actors in different costumes, really interesting and provoking lighting and sound, and you’re immersed into an African safari. Hearing the riveting soul voices singing ‘The Circle of Life’ – something about it gives you a sense of unity amongst people, even though the show is about the animal kingdom. If you look at the animal kingdom system, you have all these tiers – lions can totally devour antelopes, but on stage, we see the antelope and the lion in harmony with each other. And for a moment, there’s absolute peace, there’s the salvation of Simba, the new prince. It’s that unity that resonates on a human level – I think intrinsically that’s what we want as people.
Nick: I first saw the show in Australia when I was 26, and first of all I thought, ‘I’m in this show? Really? That looks like that, that sounds like that?!’
What’s your favourite moment in the show?
Janique: Gosh, there’s so many amazing moments. I know I just referenced the opening,but I would have to say that it’s the ‘He Lives in You Reprise’, when Rafiki has a moment with Simba, passing on his late father’s message. The song goes ‘he lives in you, he lives in me’, and whenever I’m performing and listening to that song, it just hits me. It’s such a spiritual song, deep down, it makes me think of God, and that God lives in me and everything around. It’s empowering, and it’s emotional, because whether or not you’re a spiritual person, you draw your source of power from somewhere, and that song just reminds you of that, your life force – it’s a powerful place to be.
Nick: My favourite moment in the show, among many others, probably has to be at the end when Simba and Nala are up on Pride Rock, there with the whole kingdom, and Simba has this massive realisation of ‘this is it, this is the message that Dad was trying to teach me’. It feels like you’re standing there in a moment that is a part of something greater than you.
How would you describe the show?
Janique: The show is an emotional journey. You’re on an emotional rollercoaster: there are highs, there are lows, and there are dips and swings that you just do not expect, but when it happens, you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen. Is Simba going to die? Is everything going to fall apart? – and then you pause, there’s a moment of stillness.
And then you dip again, and it’s like ‘oh my gosh, what’s happening?’. It keeps you entertained; it speaks to us on a human level, regardless of who you are and where you come from, and that’s why it’s been going on for twenty years. It’s an unforgettable experience, because it drops you to complete sorrow and then it picks you up to complete happiness. You
won’t forget it.
Nick: What she said. [laughs] How I would describe the show is that it’s a spectacle that transports you to somewhere that you’ve never been, but that also seems so familiar – I’d never been to an African safari, but the method of storytelling is incredible. I would also describe it as enlightening, humorous, something that will stir you, and something that, hopefully, as you leave the theatre, will inspire you to do or be something.
What do you think it is about the story itself that continues to resonate with the audience?
Janique: That good triumphs over evil. I think that regardless of what’s happening in our lives, we want the best outcome, and that’s what happens in the story. Even though it gets very dark and a bit hopeless, you get through it, and you get a community of supporters in The Lion King. This community tells you that you, by virtue of being you and the things that
you’ve gone through, can overcome anything.
For those who have yet to experience seeing The Lion King for themselves, why do you think they should come along and see it?
Nick: You should come to see The Lion King to be transported to Africa. You’re going to have a life lesson, you’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry, you’re going to experience things you didn’t expect. And sometimes the people you bring along, that don’t necessarily want to come along, they’re going to laugh as well and want to come back again, and I’m saying that
just because this happens a lot! When I come out to stage door, and people are there, especially fathers, saying ‘I didn’t expect that, we’re going to come back again!’
Janique: Because you’re going to miss out if you don’t – a hundred million people worldwide have seen the show, where are you? [laughs] Where’ve you been?
The Lion King continues to play at the Lyceum Theatre. To book tickets click here or visit: Love Theatre.com, Encore Tickets, See Tickets, From the Box Office, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk, Last Minute.com, ATG Tickets and West End Theatre Breaks. The show is currently also touring the UK. More information about the tour can be found here: https://disney.co.uk/shows/the-lion-king-musical-tour-tickets