Emma Clarendon chatted to the pair about returning to the West End production of The Lion King to star as Simba and Nala, having previously been in the ensemble.
Hi! How does it feel to be joining The Lion King?
OC: It feels surreal. I’m super excited, and I just can’t believe that this is actually happening. This is a dream role of mine, and the fact that it’s actually coming to fruition is crazy.
MA: It feels like a full on pinch me moment. As the weeks go by and opening night gets closer it’s even more reaffirming, It keeps reminding me that we’re actually stepping into these roles and that this has actually happened, that this is real.
What are you most looking forward to about being part of this production?
MA: I’m excited to return to this family of a show, The Lion King pools together people from all over the world. It’s such a highly-skilled team – both backstage or onstage so I think I’m looking forward to creating that sense of community again.
OC: I think I would tell you the same. Everyone’s so supportive accepting of who you are, no matter where you come from. I’m super excited to dive into that again and meet new people and go on this crazy, beautiful journey together.
Can you remember what your first experience of The Lion King was?
OC: My first experience was when I was younger, I used to just be completely obsessed with watching the movie – it was the only movie I watched on repeat. And then I remember my sister took me to watch the show for the first time for my 16th birthday which was the first show I ever saw in the West End. I remember watching it and just being in complete awe of the music, of the characters, of the actors. I just thought to myself, ‘I need to be Simba one day’ – and now I am it just feels like a full circle moment.
MA: For me it was also watching the film when I was younger, over and over again. I feel like we all did! Which is a testament to how incredible the story is. It was also actually the first West End show that I watched. I remember going with my family and being in absolute awe of seeing all the animals coming together in Pride Rock. It was incredible.
How do you see your character?
MA: I’d say Nala is a fearless leader, she takes on the role of being responsible for the lionesses. She makes the incredibly tough decision to go out on her own and leave her family, the people who she cares for the most, because she knows that that’s what is best for them.I think she has such a tough journey and she bears a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. She’s very strong, but you also get to see more of her vulnerable side which is such a beautiful thing. I just find her such an inspirational character.
OC: Simba’s playful, he’s regal, he’s sensitive but he’s also very strong – he’s really multifaceted and has got so many different sides to him that as an actor are just so beautiful to explore.
What is your favourite aspect/moment of the show?
OC: One of my favourite moments in the show is -the moment when Simba is walking up Pride Rock at the very end of the show. It’s a very powerful and scenic moment and the music is incredible.
MA: I’d say one of my favourite moments to perform is in Shadowland. Nala is exhausted from travelling so far and trying to reach somewhere to find help her, and she gets to fall into Rafiki’s arms and restore herself, and restore her faith in what she’s doing. I think it’s really beautiful.
By Emma Clarendon
Owen Chaponda (Back to the Future; The Color Purple) and Merryl Ansah (Heathers; Crazy for You) will join The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre this spring. You can book tickets here.