Q & A with Sihle Ngema of Disney’s The Lion King

Photo by Deen Van-Meer

Approaching 24 landmark years on Broadway, The Lion King continues ascendant as one of the most popular stage musicals in the world. Since its premiere on Nov. 13, 1997, 25 global productions have been seen by nearly 110 million people. Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions (under the direction of Thomas Schumacher), The Lion King has made theatrical history with six productions worldwide running 15 or more years, with four of those running 20 or more years. Disney’s The Lion King plays TPAC through Jan. 23 in TPAC’s Jackson Hall.

Sihle Ngema, ensemble member in the national tour of The Lion King, sat down to share with us his experience working on this hit musical. Born in Newcastle, South Africa, vocally trained by Boycie Phokeng & Mbongeni Ngema. Theatre: The Lion King (Australia & Shanghai), Dance Through MeMamaWoza My FohlozaJika The Musical. Television: “X Factor,” “Nelson Mandela 80th Birthday Celebration.” Film: Elephant Tails-Soundtrack Vocals.

Can you tell us a little about your performance background?

I grew up from a family of musically gifted people who enjoyed different areas of art. I was exposed to theatre at the age of 9 through my uncle, the legend Mbongeni Ngema, where I performed in Europe, Australia and South Africa. Since then, I knew that I had so much love for performing arts, specifically music. In 2004 I joined The Lion King company which gifted me the opportunity to travel to countries like Australia, China, Canada, and the US tour while performing with this amazing show.

What is it about The Lion King that drew you in and made you want to be a part of the show?

The music, dance, costumes, and lighting are so well put together. The first time I saw the show I was overwhelmed with emotions. I couldn’t believe how incredible the show was and that made me anxious to get on stage and be part of this magical experience.

Can you share with us your cultural background?

I am from a Zulu ethnic group, which is from the Southern part of Africa. Zulu beliefs are formed around ancestral spirits which mostly communicate through what we call “isangoma”, represented by Rafiki in the show. Most of the music in The Lion King has Zulu chants.

In what ways does The Lion King celebrate your culture?

It doesn’t just celebrate my culture, it celebrates a lot of other African cultures as well. It celebrates my culture through music and dance. My favorite is the opening song Circle of Life, where Simba is born and being introduced to the Pride land. During the song there is a praise poetry performed by the Antelope, where he says praises to the King. Each Zulu family has its own praises and that part just wakes up the inner Zulu spirit in me every single time.

What lessons have you learned while touring with The Lion King?

We are all away from our families, but this touring company had thought me that family is not only through blood. We have been there for each other through good and difficult times, especially now that most of us lost our loved ones through Covid.

If you weren’t a performer, what would you be doing?

I can’t imagine myself doing anything else but perform. Being on stage is what I love. It’s my first and only love.

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