Zion Gardner is currently in the West End cast of The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre as Young Simba, performing at their 20th Anniversary Gala Performance last year, and he was recently named the winner of the Big Little Stars category at the Mousetrap Awards with the other Young Simbas. The show is currently suspended due to theatres around the world being closed for the foreseeable future. Prior to joining The Lion King, Zion played Young Lola in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre making his professional and West End debut, and he also filmed for The Big Moon’s music video for Happy New Year. Recently, Zion spoke to us about playing Young Simba in Disney’s The Lion King, performing I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and making his West End debut in Kinky Boots.
How did it feel finding out you would be playing Young Simba in The Lion King in the West End?
It felt absolutely amazing when I found out that I was going to be playing the role of Young Simba in Disney’s The Lion King in the West End. It was a dream come true, and I couldn’t wait for the experience to begin.
Can you say about getting into character and performing the songs including I Just Can’t Wait to Be King?
To help me prepare for each show I read any notes that the creative team have given me from my last show and I reflect on the character and the part I have to play in telling the story. During I Just Can’t Wait to Be King – which is Young Simba’s big number in Act One – I rapidly get into the character of the young energetic lion cub and do what I do best – having fun on stage!
How long does it take you to get stage-ready for a performance and how was it seeing your costume/makeup for the first time?
When I saw my costume for the first time it was magical – as soon as I had gotten into costume, I felt like I had transformed into Young Simba. For each performance it takes roughly two hours for me to fully prepare for the show.
What do you enjoy most about playing Young Simba and how is it working with the rest of the cast?
I really enjoy I Just Can’t Wait to be King – it’s a really fun number and riding the ostrich is so much fun! I also really enjoy all the scenes with Mufasa who is Simba’s father – working with the whole cast is great as everyone is so kind and supportive – it feels like a big family.
Can you tell us what it was like at the 20th Anniversary Gala Performance at the Lyceum Theatre last October?
Being able to perform at the London production’s 20th Anniversary Gala Performance was amazing – it is an experience I will never forget!
How is it being involved with a Disney production that is well-known worldwide and how did you prepare for joining the West End Cast?
I have always been a big fan of Disney since a really young age, so to be able to be a part of a Disney production feels unreal! All of the work before starting performances was quite hard – there is a lot to learn and remember. After rehearsals I would read my script and practice the facial expressions and choreography I was taught in the mirror.
You’ve recently been announced as a winner (with the other Young Simbas) at this year’s Mousetrap Awards in the Big Little Stars category, what was this like to hear?
To hear that I’d been nominated for an award was amazing as I feel like I am being noticed as a performer. It meant so much to me to win the award (along with the other Young Simbas) as it was my first ever award and it showed me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
What was it like performing as Young Lola in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre?
Young Lola in Kinky Boots was my first role in a West End production, it was really exciting and inspired me to work hard so that I could have a career in the West End. Every show was one to remember – it was also a new experience for my feet because as you know I had to wear heels! I met lots of young performers like me that I enjoyed working with.
Can you tell us some of your favourite memories from your time in the production?
I have so many memories I don’t know where to start! The chaperones who looked after me when I was in the theatre were very supportive, I remember one day I was having a really bad day and they helped me cope so that I was still able to perform.
How was it having the show as your professional and West End debut?
Having Kinky Boots as my professional and West End debut felt extraordinary, it really spurred me on to accomplish more.
Where does your love of musical theatre come from?
My love of musical theatre sort of runs in my family. I come from a very artistic background and always enjoyed doing music and acting.
When theatres reopen, what shows would you like to see that you haven’t had chance to attend yet?
I’d like to see Hamilton and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical!
You’ve appeared in The Big Moon’s music video for Happy New Year, what was this like to film?
To film Happy New Year by The Big Moon felt very natural as I got to show off my dance moves.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I usually spend my free time rehearsing songs and playing video games and football.
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