Janique Charles officially replaces Ava Brennan in the role of Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, in Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. We sat down with her to discuss her journey in getting the role, what it’s like to work for Disney and, ultimately, how it feels to be part of the most successful musical in history.
Congratulations on getting the role! Has musical theatre always been the ultimate goal for you?
I’ve always wanted to work for Disney. Whether it was through performing in a Disney musical, on the Disney channel or on a Disney cruise ship – I just knew I wanted to work for Disney. Having grown up endlessly watching Disney movies and Disney TV, I’ve always felt very connected to it – so this is a real dream come true for me.
So how did you get the role of Nala?
I’ve been working on The Lion King for 4 years. I moved here from Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 to join Disney’s The Lion King UK tour, which also stopped in Basel, Switzerland, and that’s where my journey began! About a year ago, I made it to the West End, playing a number of different roles in the ensemble: the banana lady, a white bird, a hyena (which was so much fun!) and a lioness. Once I had a taste of playing a lioness, it became clear to me how much I’d enjoy playing Nala.
What do you particularly like about her?
She’s sweet, but fierce. She stands up for herself and those she cares about. It’s not in my character to be this fearless, so I love that in this role, I get to be fierce every day.
What’s your favourite thing about being part of such a successful musical?
I think the thing I appreciate the most is having the opportunity to work with so many professional and truly talented people. I learn so much from these world-class performers, whilst playing a part in a story that I adored growing up. It’s a wonderful experience.
If you could see any other film made into a musical, what would it be?
I’ve always liked the Prince of Egypt, I think that film has potential to be an incredible musical. There are some really underrated, beautiful songs. In terms of Disney films, The Lion King is of course my favourite, however, The Little Mermaid comes a very close second! I love the innocence of Ariel, but if it was made into a musical, I’d have to play Ursula – I have so much fun playing these bolder, more daring characters.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Well, working for Disney is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been working for years to get here. So I often have to remind myself to breathe, relax and enjoy what I’ve worked so hard to achieve.
I think on a less serious note, falling over most days in rehearsals is a challenge. It’s a very physical show – particularly the fight scene between Nala and Simba – so it’s bound to happen. It’s past the stage of embarrassing now, but it sure does hurt!
So what’s your relationship like with Nick Afoa (Simba)?
Nick’s great – he’s a really funny, cool guy. He’s from New Zealand – so it’s really interesting learning about his culture and hearing all of his stories from when he played rugby professionally. We’ve had a lot of laughs since beginning rehearsals. But I love every member of the cast; they’re all so inspiring and bring so much to the show.
For people who haven’t seen the show yet, what can they expect?
It’s so beautiful. You just can’t even imagine how much you’ll enjoy it. There’s one particular scene with white birds that makes me fall in love with the show more each time; their costumes flow out like a flower in bloom. You can’t put into words how beautiful it is. The music, the costumes – it’s all mind-blowing.
One last question – is there any advice you’d give to aspiring actors/actresses?
To put it simply, never give up. Keep trying, auditioning, playing the smaller parts. I played so many characters in the ensemble for the show and I learned so much. I had to know the show in and out; that experience was truly invaluable.
Janique performs her role of Nala for the first time tonight at 7.30pm.
Book tickets for Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre here.
Watch the official trailer below.