Power of the pride — ‘The Lion King’ lands back in Boston as popular as ever
There’s a reason Disney’s “The Lion King” has been running to critical acclaim on Broadway and on tour for 21 years. Brimming with infectious joy, the show has found the perfect blend of artistry and entertainment. Back again in Boston, “The Lion King” runs at the Citizens Bank Opera House through Oct. 27.
The classic story, following the Disney animated movie of 1994, centers on Simba, a young lion prince living in the African Pride Lands. When Simba’s wicked uncle orchestrates the death of the king (Simba’s father), Simba flees his home in a fit of sorrow and guilt. With the help of friends he meets along the way and his love interest Nala, Simba grows into a strong lion leader and must reclaim the Pride Lands from his uncle’s reign.
For Nia Holloway, who plays Nala, the awe-inspiring world of “The Lion King” has become home. In her junior year of high school, Holloway became the youngest actress ever to be cast as adult Nala in the production’s history. She’s been playing the role on tour ever since. “[The show] has always been a part of my life, since I was a kid. I can remember the very first time I saw it and I cried my eyes out,” says Holloway. “It’s a story that people all over the world have related to and it’s changed people’s lives.”
The critics seem to agree. In 1998, “The Lion King” won six Tony Awards. Julie Taymor, the director, costume designer and co-mask designer, won two and became the first woman to ever win a Tony for direction of a musical. Since its inception the show has been performed over 9,000 times for more than 100 million people.
For Holloway, it isn’t just the soul-soaring music, the intricate and astounding costumes and the relatable story that makes “The Lion King,” so important, it’s also the diversity of the cast. One of the great successes of the Broadway musical is that it has reclaimed the story’s setting in Africa. In other iterations of the story it is mostly glossed over, but the musical firmly roots the show in Africa and in a cast that is predominantly people of color.
Throughout the show, six indigenous African languages are sung and spoken — Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana and Congolese — and no translation is necessary or provided. The costumes incorporate traditional African prints, face-paint patterns and mask designs. “The music and the African culture of the Lion King is super-authentic,” says Holloway. “It’s something that everyone in the world has been able to find a little piece of them in, which is why I think it’s been around for so long. The theater experience is unmatched.”