Tuesday, July 5

Spotlight on Kayi Ushe or ‘Simba’ in The Lion King

The Lion King has returned in all its colourful splendour to The Lyceum Theatre.  As the existing cast welcome new members, we asked Kayi Ushe what it means to him to join the cast playing the role of Simba.

To book tickets or find further information about The Lion King go to the website https://thelionking.co.uk/london/#booking-information

Is Simba a role that you have always wanted to play?

Being a part of the Lion King has always been a goal for me. There’s so much to explore in every aspect of the show. So, to get to play Simba, a character that has resonated with me and so many since childhood, is a blessing.

As a new cast member to the team, how have your previous stage roles prepared you for this very energetic lead role?

Simba is such a high energy role. It’s a role like no other. During lockdown I took up running, (along with the rest of the world) I got myself up to running 10k and still Simba pushed me past my physical limits.

The rehearsal process was tough and so rewarding. As a new cast member, I remember looking around the room and seeing the level of excellence from everybody present and even when I thought I had nothing left to give, the rest of the company elevated me.

The whole production is a feast for the senses, with sensational costumes and electrifying music.  As one of the central characters, how do you navigate the very busy stage to ensure your movement qualities inhabit the character and project an animal like quality?

The Lion King has been running on the Westend for over 20 years. The utmost care and attention to detail is prevalent in every department. 150 people, on stage and off, dedicated to telling the same story every day, sometimes twice a day.  As Simba I get to use multiple elements to tell that story.  There’s something happening everywhere; different textures, colours, sounds, expressions, techniques etc.  It is an olfactory treat.   Which makes playing a curious, young, strong lion feel very natural.

There are many children who come to see the show.  What would you say to those children who see this magical show and dream of one day becoming a performer?

I would say to them: ‘I was you.’  I remember the first time I looked up at Rafiki as she called the Serengeti to life. The Antelopes that responded to her call. The Elephant that paraded through the auditorium. The elegant Giraffes and the child like wonder that spread through me seeing my favourite film coming alive onstage before my eyes.  I remember also hearing languages close to the language I spoke at home and people onstage who looked like me. And thinking “one day”.   I would say, work hard and never lose sight of whatever dream you have as a performer.

Simba is played by two different performers: Simba as a child and your own role as adult Simba.  Do you have to work closely with ‘Young Simba’ to ensure that there is a seamless transition between young and old?

We’re so blessed to have 4 incredible young Simba’s. Each so unique and so full of talent and energy. During rehearsals I got to sit with them and rehearse with them. Because their journey is my journey. We are telling the same characters story and so it’s important to work together.

Are there any other roles that you dream of playing in the future?

Simba has been the dream for the longest time. Ask anyone close to me and they will corroborate this. The great thing about achieving your dreams is that you get to have new dreams, so I can’t wait to see what that will be. But for now, I’m living out a dream and that’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Kayi Ushe – Biography

Theatre: Kinky Boots (UK Tour); The Crucible, A Little Night Music (Storyhouse, Chester), Motown the Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre); Wonderland (UK Tour); The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre); Avenue Q (UK Tour); Kisses on a Postcard (North Devon Theatres); Fame the Musical (Italian tour) and Crazy for You (London Palladium).

Television: West Side Story: The Making of a Classic (BBC).