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Shahadi Wright Joseph and JD McCrary shine in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Shahadi Wright Joseph and JD McCrary shine in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’
(Top to Bottom) Simba and JD McCrary and Nala and Shahadi Wright Joseph. Photo by Kwaku Alston. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With an all-star cast featuring Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfre Woodard and James Earl Jones, it’s no wonder Disney’s remake of “The Lion King” has been one of this year’s highly anticipated films.

In its opening weekend two weeks ago in the U.S. and Canada, the live action film made $185 million, and has earned a worldwide haul of $531 million, according to Entertainment Weekly. The film also achieved the biggest domestic launch ever for a PG-rated film and scored the highest July film opening ever.

Adding to “The Lion King’s” success are the multi-talented and beautifully-casted actors JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph, who voice Young Simba and Young Nala respectively. Working together, talking and rehearsing their lines on the Jon Favreau-directed film, helped the two actors to naturally “blossom into a Nala and Simba friendship,” said Wright Joseph, who was in Boston last month with McCrary to promote the film.

Stepping into the role of Young Nala was a homecoming of sorts for Wright Joseph, who at just nine years old, made history as the youngest actress to play the character in Disney’s “The Lion King” on Broadway. She noted the difference in acting versus voicing the character by the ability to “mess up” in doing her voiceover work. “You don’t have to just improvise your way back into the scene. You have time to actually review the character,” she added.

In addition to acting, McCrary, 12, and Wright Joseph, 14, are also very talented singers and dancers. McCrary, who is the youngest male solo artist ever signed to Hollywood Records, released his first official EP, “Shine,” this past April. That same month, he appeared on the big screen opposite Marsai Martin (ABC’s “black-ish”) and Issa Rae (HBO’s “Insecure”) in the comedy “Little.”

Earlier this year, Wright Joseph starred as Zoya Wilson alongside Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Evan Alex in director Jordan Peele’s horror/thriller movie, “Us.” In 2015, she was part of the original Broadway cast of “School of Rock,” playing the role of Madison, where she earned the 2016 AUDELCO Rising Star Award.  A year later, the actor joined the star-studded cast of NBC’s “Hairspray Live!” performing alongside Jennifer Hudson, Harvey Fierstein and Ariana Grande.

Whether it’s singing, dancing or acting, McCrary and Wright Joseph plan on having long careers in the entertainment industry. For kids who may look up to them and are hoping to break into acting or singing, McCrary offers this bit of advice: “Keep going and never give up because if you give up, you’re not going to get anywhere. The people that are at the top and that have done it, they never gave up. If you do the same, you’ll make it to where you want to be.”

Wright Joseph adds, “Keep striving for your goals and don’t stop working for it because that is what makes you the person you want to be.”

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