Everyone has their favorite character in THE LION KING, whether it’s the wise-cracking meerkat Timon or Simba’s evil uncle Scar. We talked to some of the performers who’ve starred in THE LION KING around the world to get their thoughts on the characters that they bring to life onstage. He’s a diverse character, that’s what Simba is. He’s just a restless wanderer. He’s just wandering around, jumping around, trying to find a better place. ‘Cause he’s traveling through the jungle with Timon and Pumbaa, so he’s putting on this front of – you know – I’m energetic, I’m young, I’m just going to have fun with you guys. But at the same time he’s got a lot of emotional baggage. It’s not until Simba’s able to open himself to what his father taught him all those years ago that he’s able to complete his journey into manhood and into becoming the king he’s meant to be. When Nala shows up in the picture, that’s when he has to really face the fact that things happened in his past that he really, really needs to confront. Nala is Simba’s best friend, and they grew up together and they are inseparable. She’s very strong, feisty, and she’s very brave. When Simba goes away, Nala feels really left alone. She sees what happens to all of the Pridelands and what it’s going to be under the dictatorship of Scar. At that moment, at 10 years old, she needs to grow up and she needs to be the person that’s going to speak up for her people. She thinks Simba is dead. And then Scar decides that she should be his queen and so she feels she must flee and leave. But she vows to her family that she will return. She’ll be back. When Nala says “Giza buyabo,” that’s exactly what it means, translated out. Giza buyabo, I will return. …I’ll remember my pride. Giza buyabo. Giza buyabo. I will return… Nala is a strong woman. She’s the one who comes in with the power, and the strength, and the heart, and conviction to take care of her people. Mufasa is Simba’s father and he is the king of the Pridelands. He cares about his subjects, the other animals in the Pridelands, and he cares about his family as well. Mufasa is very important to me because of what he represents. He’s a good leader who is cut down in his prime and that’s something we’re all afraid of: that we’ll have good leaders who won’t be there to guide us. He is a nurturer, a caring man, he is a teacher, and he is the essence of a king. In the scene under the stars, Mufasa talks to Simba about the fact that he won’t be around all of the time. But the ancestors are all there watching over Simba, and helping him if he’s ever in trouble. So in that sense there is a spirituality to Mufasa. Well, Scar is the brother of the present king. He feels that he’s been passed over; he feels that he deserves to be on the throne. But now there’s a new child born into the Pridelands and Scar has a rival for that throne. And that does not make him happy. It builds such resentment in how he feels towards his brother that he becomes the opposite of what his brother is. He takes all of this energy and uses it in bad ways. Scar actually thinks that he should have been the first king, instead of Mufasa, way back when. But if something happened to Mufasa, Scar assumes that he would be the next king. He begins a series of dastardly events that end up getting him into a lot of trouble in the end. The first character that we meet in the show is Rafiki. And the first sound you hear is this cry across the savannah announcing that the king is born. Nants’ ngonya… When I compare the characters between the film and the stage show, Rafiki is the one who emerges most because we get so much more time with Rafiki. There was always this problem, really, because the first song in THE LION KING is the “Circle of Life” and in the movie it’s a female voice. So this made sense, because now we had Rafiki being the person who would sing that. She really became an important person in expanding and bringing something major to this piece that’s not in the animated cartoon. He’s a very funny character, but he does not have the spirituality that Rafiki now has. She is in South African terms what’s called a sangoma. And a sangoma is able to interpret things from the past, and is able to see the future, and is able to heal, and is able to guide spiritually for the community. In the community they are the ones who help people to realize that even when someone died in the family you don’t forget about that person. You always remember that person, you can ask things and we believe that they will help us back. I love Rafiki because she has a crazy wisdom. We don’t always understand why she’s telling us what she’s telling us, but it does add up. She helps Simba realize his role in the Pride Rock. She’s the one that really opens his eyes as to what he needs to do to become the man he’s meant to be. By having South African actresses play Rafiki, we get a much richer cultural view of the African element coming in to the show and we get a sense of their culture and we hear their language. Not only was a great role created for a woman, but a woman that’s both spiritual/soulful and humorous. She needs to be there and she needs to be this spiritual woman, this sangoma, the real sangoma. Zazu is the king Mufasa’s majordomo. He’s the assistant to the king. His job is to keep the king informed of what’s going on in the kingdom and to make sure protocol is followed from the elephants down to the moles and everything. He tries to keep everything in order. He can make the king laugh, he can give the king great insight. And yet he’s this tiny, little bird. He’s the one who’s able to give him advice on his son, and on how to handle situations that no one else can do. When the kids are running around he’s supposed to take care of them and advise them and show them how things are supposed to be done. And since they’re kids they don’t really want to listen to an old bird trying to tell them what to do, or what the good thing to do or the bad thing to do is. And of course, he gets in trouble himself. Timon seems like he has all the wits about him, but he really doesn’t and he actually relies a lot on Pumbaa. Pumbaa’s a lot smarter than he thinks and what Timon gives him credit for. He relies on Simba’s strength and Timon’s wits to get by, but he serves a purpose as sort of the mediator between the two. I think that Timon and Pumbaa come into Simba’s life at the perfect moment. He’s lost his father, he’s lost his home, and he’s run, and run, and run until he’s exhausted. You know, there’s a line that Timon says: “When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.” And I think they finally realize that that isn’t always the best philosophy. They’ve turned their backs on their responsibilities; they’re just out for themselves. And in watching Simba they realize they can be part of something too.