ACTORS EMBODY SIMBA AND NAIA
IT is easy to see why Nick Afoa and Josslynn Hlenti were chosen to star in The Lion King when the Australian production was cast two years ago – they embody all you expect from Simba and Nala.
“Even before I started working on the show I saw so many similarities between myself and the character. The story has just always had a pull with me,” Afoa said.
“I come from New Zealand and am of Samoan descent and we look up to the African style of music and that soul with our harmonies; when I heard a lot of these songs while growing up they resonated with me.”
The Lion King is Afoa’s theatre debut, while Durban-born Hlenti had Annie and Idols South Africa on her resume when she attended the biannual auditions for the musical in South Africa.
“I’ve always wanted to take the African experience to the world and The Lion King is a great way of doing that,” Hlenti said.
“I say all the time that if you want to go to Africa, see The Lion King and you will get a taste of it.
“Music is a beautiful way of experiencing anybody’s culture and the music in this is just exceptional.”
This pure enthusiasm for The Lion King has carried the leads through more than 600 performances, where Afoa spends an extra hour in makeup getting his full sleeve tattoo covered, although both admitted they’d had to learn how to run the musical marathon.
“I would say the biggest challenge is conserving my body and making sure you last the distance,” Afoa said.
“I had to learn quite quickly that I just needed to calm down sometimes.”
Hlenti said there was the tendency to want to give everything on stage.
“You can’t help but want to leave your heart in the audience’s hands. We’ve had to pull back a lot because you just get so excited, wanting everyone to experience what you’re experiencing,” she said.
As the show wraps up in Melbourne before coming to Perth in November for its final season on tour, the pair, who have taken screen acting classes together for the past few months, said they were unsure what life post-The Lion King held.
However, Hlenti is looking forward to going home.
“I’ve been homesick so I can’t wait to see my family and be in South Africa again,” she said.
“I need to be replenished after all the spirit I’ve been giving to Australian audiences.”
Josslynn Hlenti plays Nala and Nick Afoa is Simba in The Lion King.