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The Lion King’s Samoan star Nick Afoa: “I feel really proud”

It’s been over a year and a half since The Lion King musical has graced any world stage. Now showing in Aotearoa, it’s the first country to showcase the world’s No. 1 musical production since Covid-19 shut down the globe.

Soana ‘Aholelei caught up with local Samoan Nick Afoa who’s back in the lead role.

The stirring opening lines of the ‘Circle of Life’ herald the arrival of… The Lion King.

For cast members involved in staging the musical in New Zealand for the first time last month, it was just a little overwhelming.

Actor Antony Lawrence, who plays the role of Scar, recalls: “I was backstage last night before the show began, just hearing the audience, and being like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people out there and they’re very excited!'”

“When the show began, it was electrifying. It was very hard not to cry backstage.”

The world’s number one musical brings vibrant costumes, state of the art puppetry, set design and choreography to Aotearoa.

“We are grateful, happy and excited, because we are artists, and we need to share always with the world. To share this story is really important to us,” says Resident Director Omar Rodriguez.

The show boasts 120 international and 300 local cast and crew.

Five Kiwi kids grace the stage as well as the return of Samoan Nick Afoa, reprising his role as the adult Simba.

I’m grateful that right from the auditions… it’s something that’s always been encouraged, to bring your culture, bring yourself to the fore, as well as finding ways in which it can work in this beautiful African story,” Afoa says.

“You see it at the start of the show, you see it in the Circle of Life, you see the antelopes doing the oratory.  As we know in our culture, we have the same sorts of things, and so you know what’s going on.”

Loving the opportunity to express her language and culture is South African actor Amanda Kunene.

“To be able to sing songs written in my native language brings such power and that rooted feeling of: I know the meaning of what I’m saying, and I’m able to portray and say it fully with that understanding of what the song actually means to me,” she says.

The cast and crew are enamoured with Aotearoa, as well as their Samoan lead.

World-renowned Musical Director Andy Massey says: “It’s a very easy job working with Nick. He’s a musician; it was just lovely to welcome him back to this score which he’s sung a lot in other places. He’s got a rare voice which is perfect for this role.”

“I feel really proud,” Afoa says.

“Everywhere I’ve played it, there’s been times I’ve come out of the theatre, and there’s sometimes some Samoans standing there… Not to mention if I’ve heard them inside the crowd going, ‘CHEEHOOO’!”

“I feel it’s a responsibility, because I’m telling our story as well, not just my own,” he says.

One thing’s for sure — this South Aucklander’s glad to be home playing Simba.

“My partner will be here, Mum and Dad… they will be here together, because they haven’t watched the show together,” Afoa says.

“So I can’t wait, because they brought me into this world, you know; that is what this show is about — life and death, it’s about those sorts of things.”

The message of the Lion King is resonating with what is needed in the world today.

Rodriguez says: “It’s a nice reminder that we are together and no matter the colour of your skin, your spirituality, wherever you are, we need each other, and so we are connected.”

By Soana ‘Aholelei

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