Lion King on Broadway is a roaring success with its fans, both new and old. Sitting down with a few of its most prominent cast members makes it clear that the storyline is supported by actors dedicated to the story and characters.
The actors who play Simba and Nala, Jelani Remy and Chantel Riley, were in a pretty playful mood as they answered their questions.
One of the questions I wanted to ask first off was about Nala. She seems like a really independent lioness and everything, so why do you think she has to wait for Simba to come back to stage a rebellion?
Riley: Girl, I wish I knew! Cause really-no, I’m joking. I think it’s a team effort. I think in life, you can’t really do everything on our own. We all need help at some point. And although I think she would have been capable enough to do it, sometimes you need a little extra help.
Remy: I’d just like to go back to – it’s the Lion King, Lion King.
Riley: Boy, don’t start.
Remy: Yes, lionesses have an amazing role in this world, but if the show was called the Lion Queen maybe things would be different. It’s not.
Riley: See, he’s starting. He said it, not me. Those girls are going to come after you…
Also, I wanted to ask- there’s this very real PTSD moment for Simba, at the waterfall. Timon’s falling, and he kind of just freezes up. What do you think about having that sort of PTSD kind of element in a kid’s show?
Remy: Well I think it’s the first time Simba had a flashback about what happened to him, and that same feeling of it’s gonna happen again. Timon and Pumba are the first people that he trusted after he was exiled, you know, so to have that flashback feeling and to think that oh my gosh, this is happening again, is just heavy for a kid to reflect on. And to reflect as an adult on that child, it’s definitely a whole other level. It’s an out-of-body experience for me in the show, so I’m sure that the audience is feeling that same sort of energy.
And for the both of you, there’s this very real sense of throwing back to the ancestors, family, your roots. Do you feel like that became more of a thing for you doing this show?
Riley: When I first did the show- I’m originally from Toronto, so when I first did the show, I had to move to Germany. So that was the first time for me moving away from my family, living on my own, and so I found myself on a new journey of trying to discover myself and get to know-but also to try to remember where I came from. And so this show- you know, they’re always telling Simba, Remember who you are. And it was a great opportunity for me to remember who I was. And just because I didn’t have my family there to support me, I still had what they had left me, what they had been able to impart on me and in my heart.
Remy: And I think with this cast what radiates onstage is this sense of family. We all work together but it’s more than that. I enjoy the people I work with and there’s this wide range of kids to people who have been doing this show since it started. So it’s nice to have somebody to go to for anything I may need or any sort of thing I’m going through. Somebody who will offer two cents of an opinion or some sort of thing to help us on our journey. It’s not work, it’s play, so I get to play with these amazing people onstage night after night for how many years and it’s a wonderful experience. Going back to that thing with Simba and Nala, there’d be no can we feel the love tonight if Nala didn’t go over everything, but you get what I’m saying though, right? And how devastating would that be?
Riley: It’s a man’s world. What did you say?
Remy: (falsetto) Man’s world.
Riley: But it’d be nothing without what? A woman or a girl-
Riley: Oh my God, ew.
Remy: But we digress, we digress.
Do you have any idea where in Africa this would be set besides the Sahara Desert?
Riley: What part, exactly? I think it’s just inspiration from all over.
Like a patchwork quilt.
Riley: Yeah, exactly.
All cast members involved seemed thoroughly excited about not just the plot of the show, but how it connects back to the culture of Africa as a continent and what it’s like to live and interact with family when there are often so many expectations, things to which many can relate, Africa or no.