Just last year Nia Holloway, who plays Nala in the National Tour of Disney’s The Lion King, was a junior at Norcross High School, looking forward to her senior year. But, fate changed her whole world.
Instead of enjoying Prom, Senior Day and other rights of passage, Holloway has been spending her senior year on the road with The Lion King, and it is an opportunity she has fully embraced.
While she knew that being a part of such a blockbuster show would be a remarkable event, that perception was bolstered after she saw the show for the first time when she went for a fitting. The show not only impressed her, but also the audience’s response had a large impact on her.
“I couldn’t believe that I would be a part of this [experience],” Holloway states. The smiles of the audience caused her to swell with a sense of awe knowing that she would “be up there giving that expression to people.”
With a keen understanding of the history and immense popularity of the musical, Holloway is emboldened by the show’s phenomena. While some may feel pressure to live up to the high standards of the production, she embraces them.
“It is really, really amazing. The Lion King holds such a great legacy,” she remarks. “It encourages me and inspires me to be my best every night. “
In a way, her own journey parallels the character she plays in the production. Like Nala, Holloway had to leave everything that is familiar to her and take on a new role. “Nala has to leave home,” she explains. Similarly, she adds that she left “to start my career.”
Performing the song “Shadowland” creates special a moment for her each night. In the number, Nala is preparing to go on a journey and leave her homeland. For her, there is a personal connection to the song, but she also recognizes the power it holds. “It is a song you can relate to anything,” she mentions.
Just like Nala, Holloway has moved forward, growing even stronger and more determined. As she reflects on her own path, she comments, “As a person I have seen myself growing. My voice is growing.” Working in the musical has helped her to become a more accomplished professional. This opportunity for such professional development isn’t one that she takes lightly. “It is a unique experience being so young and to learn the skills I’m learning,” she says. “It is something that forces you to be a precise performer.”
While she has performed professionally on TV, at the Apollo Theatre and locally in Atlanta, The Lion King is her first touring show, and the experience is one that she has easily adapted to, even though she is missing being at home.
One of the things she longs for is the time she used to spend with friends. Having been a part of a state basketball championship team and having the same classmates since sixth grade, the loss of that comradeship is a void that she notices.
“I miss the simple things,” she says. “After games we would go to Waffle House or IHOP and talk and laugh. You really don’t appreciate these things when you have them everyday.” She playfully adds, “I do love that I don’t have to go to school as long.” On tour, she works with a tutor to complete her studies.
Holloway does have one aspect of home on the tour: her father is traveling with her. But, the Atlanta engagement at the Fox Theatre allows her to have a homecoming and see family and friends that she hasn’t seen in a while.
In her opinion seeing The Lion King is “something you will never forget.” It wouldn’t be too much to speculate that her journey with the show will be a memory she will treasure for a lifetime.
Part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta series, Disney’s The Lion King plays at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre April 10 through April 27, 2014. For tickets and more information, please visit www.broadwayinatlanta.com or www.foxtheatre.org.
By Kenny Norton