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1515 Broadway, New York, NY 10036

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Tony Winner

Tony Winner

AWE INSPIRING! A gorgeous, gasp-inducing spectacle.

New York Times

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BWW Interview: Debut of the Month - THE LION KING's Newest 'Nala' Adrienne Walker

On July 5th, Broadway's long-running hit musical The Lion King welcomed Adrienne Walker as its newest 'Nala.' Today, the actress speaks exclusively to BWW about making her Broadway debut in the Tony Award winning show and explains why her casting "just kind of swept me off my feet!"

[NOTE: BroadwayWorld's fabulous photographer Jessica Fallon Gordon captures images of the Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column in a special photo shoot. Check out the pics of Ms. Walker throughout the feature!]

What was your reaction when you first found out you were cast as Nala?

Wow, my reaction would be hard to beat. I was headed to the airport, back to San Francisco where I was on tour, and I got the phone call from my agent while I was trying to buy an air train ticket to JFK, and I immediately just started crying. And I think one of the attendants came up to me and said, 'hey, is everything alright?' and I said, 'I'm the next Nala on Broadway!' And he was like 'oh my God!' And my folks were on a flight at the time so I was unable to call them until I landed six hours later in San Francisco, and I think the best moment of the whole experience was face-timing them and getting to see their faces when I told them, 'hey, this is it. We've made it, this is going to happen. This goal we've been working towards is going to happen!'

That's fantastic! Nala really plays a crucial role in the story because she is the one who convinces Simba to return and reclaim what is rightfully his. Are their certain traits in the character that you can relate to?

Yes, I can find similarities with her persistence, and in how she decides to handle situations. She's very honest, she's very blunt. And that doesn't come from a place of judgement, but it definitely comes from a place of knowing what is right, knowing what your responsibilities are, knowing who you are, so it's up to you to make it happen. And I think I can see that similarity in my life, in how I deal with my family and my friends, and also how I deal with myself. Sometimes you have to give yourself a pep talk, you have to convince yourself that you are capable of something.

And I assume you bring all those similarities to your portrayal.

Yes, and I find it so important, I'm sure most actors do as well, that you draw from what you know to make it real. You can't just make things up out of thin air. And during the rehearsal process, that discovery was so important, taking the time to discover what those moments were for me, Adrienne, and how I can bring them to the role of Nala.

Speaking of the rehearsal process, can you give us an idea of how much time you had to prepare for the role, particularly with this show which has the added challenge of the unique costumes.

Well they really took their time with me, which was so essential because you're learning not only a script and a dynamic with a new character, you're also learning a new physicality, a new language with your body. And I never had to do that to the extent that your asked to do it in this show.

So I had four weeks and we used all of that time. And I was so appreciative of that because sometimes you never know how much rehearsal time you're going to get, it varies, but with a show like this, that's been running for so long, for nearly 19 years, they've got companies all over the world, and they have a system that they know works. But at the same time, they also give the actors the liberty and the time that they need to make it fit on them. So I was never told, 'do it this way because that's how Nala does it', or 'this is how Nala moves.' It was more like, 'try this out, let's see how it fits on you' and then, 'ok, let's alter this, let's alter that, ok now that is how you're going to move as Nala.' So they really worked it out on my body.

How interesting.

It is. One of the most positive experiences you could have is for someone to tailor something to you instead of putting something on you. It just rarely works that way and I really appreciate my process, because they really made sure it worked for me and that it felt comfortable and that I had the tools I needed.

And during that process, how many times did you get to run through your scenes with the full cast or at least a partial cast?

I had a chance with the main Simba, Jelani Remy, and then also the three Simba covers. And I also had a chance to work with all of my scene partners, who are Timon, Pumbaa, Scar and Simba, whenever I have a line, those are the characters I am giving it to or receiving a line from. And I was able to work with every single one of them, anyone who would play them at any time I'm on stage. And the funny thing about that is, you'd think 'oh, you only need to work with the main leads,' but that's not really the case because when you're learning it, it's good to get different variations so that it keeps you fresh. Otherwise, you get stuck in 'oh well so and so delivers his lines this way so this is how I'm going to feed off whatever he is giving me.' But because my partners are constantly changing, even now, I'm able to be pliable in the scenes with Simba and I'm not glued to anything.

The show is so unique in that the audience sees the actors' faces, even though they are also wearing animal costumes, which of course helps to humanize these characters. Did that take time for you to learn how to merge those two different aspects of the role?

Yes, I would say that was one of the most challenging parts was merging that together. I feel because you have people wearing masks and not in a full animal costume, it really does help humanize the story, and it's really effective to see within just seconds, someone move in an animalistic way and also move as a human. Because you don't need to see someone being an animal the whole time, you don't need to see someone being a human the whole time, but to see them both, it really works to help tell the story.

How do you prepare for such a demanding role? I imagine you had to begin a new exercise regimen.

Absolutely! The role definitely calls for a very strong core so I had to make sure that I focused on that from the start. Even before I started rehearsals, I started working on core training, and then as rehearsals began and things became more intense, and I began to realize what was expected of me, I was in the gym every morning. You know core strength, endurance, cardio, all of that is helpful because you want to look strong on stage and you want to look like what you are doing is effortless. But also you want to show the times where it does take effort, where there was a journey. So you can look exhausted on stage, but it shouldn't be from running and leaping, it should be from something much more dramatic that is happening in the story.

You mentioned earlier that the show has been running for almost 19 years. What do you think it is about the story that makes it timeless and appealing to such a broad range of ages and cultures?

Well, it's that story of the Prodigal Son right? And I think that people can identify with that, no matter the culture. With the actual production of The Lion King, with the puppetry and the spectacle of it all, I think that not only does the story support its longevity, but just the intense amount of drama that is put on the stage helps support it as well. The costumes are beautiful, the music is exciting and touching and authentic and I think that really helps the show live, no matter if it's 10 years ago or if it's 10 years from now.

What was it like to make your Broadway debut in THE LION KING?

It's so funny because I expected to go out there and remember every second of it and I think my brain wouldn't allow me to! I was trying to process everything that I had learned and I wanted to have a great show but also allow myself to realize what I was doing, that I was having my first show on Broadway. But I couldn't allow my brain to take over all of that responsibility at once. So it felt like a blur and it really didn't hit me until days later. Someone recently asked me how I felt when I took my first bow, with my family in the audience and I knew how excited they were, I knew they were rooting for me and were so proud of me, but just all of it was so unbelievably overwhelming that I couldn't process that either.

So I guess to answer your question, it's indescribable because it's something I've always hoped for for myself. And you know if you had told me in January, 'Adrienne, you're making your Broadway debut later this year' I would have laughed in your face. But it happened! And it just kind of swept me off my feet, like a wave. And now I'm just riding the ride!

Adrienne Walker's featured theater credits include Porgy & Bess, Iphigenia in Aulis, Agamemnon (Court); The Color Purple (Mercury); Sondheim on Sondheim (Porchlight); Brooklyn the Musical (Towle). Adrienne also voices Peanut on the YouTube animated series McTucky Fried High.

Photo credit: Jessica Fallon Gordon

Article reprinted with permission from

What You Say

68 reviews, average rating: (4.8 Stars)

Ash: “Beautiful!”

Lion King is my favorite Disney movie, and I didn't think it could get any ... more

Alex Karpinski: “The King Is A Lion”

The Lion King, How should I put this? It's more, understandable than the mo... more

Bradley And Mom: “This Is The Best Show That I Have Ever Seen!”

We love this show!it rocks better than the one at Walt Disney World.this ... more

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