As the Broadway tour of “Disney’s The Lion King” opens in Boston today, one woman commands the stage. Her name: Nia Holloway. She’s playing the powerful lead female role of Nala, a role she’s mastered over six years.
Holloway was in her junior year of high school when she was initially cast as Nala in Disney’s national tour of “The Lion King.” A true trailblazer, Holloway was the youngest actor to ever play the role of adult Nala in the production’s history. She finished high school while she was on tour.
“I spent my formative years on the road,” she says. And, “I’ve grown as an entertainer on stage and as a person. Nala has really helped me grow into the woman I am today. It’s a very challenging role.”
First an original story created by Disney and turned into the 1994 animated movie most Gen Xers have seen multiple times, “The Lion King” follows Simba, a young lion prince whose father is murdered by Simba’s sinister uncle. Simba must mature and grow (and find the love of his life, Nala) before he can take back his father’s legacy. Most recently, “The Lion King” has won a whole new generation of fans with the 2019 Jon Favreau-directed musical film starring Beyoncé.
“The Lion King,” and with it, Holloway, has been a pioneering show in bringing actors of color to the spotlight. Set in Africa, the lavish musical has allowed many black voices, including Holloway’s, to shine.
Holloway recounts how she often felt left out during her early years, because many of the lead roles in her school musicals weren’t meant for black kids. Now, having found great success as an actress of color, she gets to show young performers that there is a space for them on Broadway.
“For me it’s always a huge responsibility and a huge motivator that there are little brown and black kids who will look at this show and see a space full of people who look like them,” she says.
This megahit has been running on Broadway for more than 20 years. Holloway says both the show’s spectacle and its relatable story have made it so popular.
“The story is timeless,” she says. “Everybody can relate — no matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like — to the story of owning who you are and taking your rightful place in the world.”
It’s worth noting that even without her spectacular run with “The Lion King,” Holloway would have been destined for stardom. She comes from a long line of performers, including her grandmother “Disco Diva” Loleatta Holloway. Loleatta’s vocals were featured on the 1991 single “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, as well as many of her own successful tracks. Holloway’s great-grandmother performed backup vocals for Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin and The Bee Gees.
“The Lion King” is “a beautiful, magical, colorful story that comes to life in front of you,” says Holloway. “The theater experience is unmatched.”
“Disney’s The Lion King” runs October 3–27 at the Citizens Bank Opera House.