BWW Interview: Hometown 'Princess Warrior' Nia Holloway Talks Returning to Atlanta in THE LION KING Tour
Five years ago, Norcross High School student Nia Holloway dropped everything to tackle life on the road in Disney's The Lion King and has continued to portray Nala across the country ever since then. Now, the Atlanta native is bringing her performance back home to our own historic Fox Theatre January 10-28, with what she describes as a "brand new Nala." And she couldn't be more excited. Check out our conversation below, wherein Holloway shares her process in keeping the role fresh, her daily growth through playing Nala, and her excitement to soak up Southern hospitality.
We in Atlanta are so excited to have you coming to the Fox soon!
Yeah, me too! Being able to come back to your hometown and actually sleep in your own bed is always an exciting thing to look forward to.
And this is now the second time you've performed at the Fox, but what was it like that first time?
You know, I just couldn't believe it. I had the opportunity to walk through one of the halls in the Fox Theatre that shows all of the legends who have performed there, and so getting to walk through there was just super humbling to know that I get to be among those amazing people who have been there before.
And you're one of them now!
Yes! My mom has been calling me and saying things like, "Oh my goodness, they have the marquee up!" All my friends, and really the whole city of Atlanta has been super supportive in welcoming hometown performers back.
So with your role specifically, can you talk about how it has been expanded from the movie?
Yeah, so the creator of The Lion King musical, Julie Taymor, really expanded on the character of Nala. When you see Nala, she is a young, fierce princess warrior. I love, absolutely love playing Nala. She's young, she's fearless, and she's also very vulnerable and strong. So she's a really fun and dynamic character to play. I think Julie Taymor, when she expanded on the character in the musical, made girl power very prominent. Nala takes care of the Pride Land, and she also helps bring Simba back to take on his responsibility as king.
And she gets the showstopper, "Shadowland."
Yes! I love "Shadowland"! "Shadowland" is one of the turning points for the show. When you listen to it, it just takes you on an emotional roller coaster. It starts in a very dark place where Nala is talking about her desolate homeland, and by the end of the song, she's very triumphant and strong and ready to take on the world. So it's a very powerful song.
How do you see yourself in your character?
So, I was actually cast in my junior year of high school when I was at Norcross High School, making me the youngest performer to play the role. So my life made a complete change. My dad came on tour with me, and my mom stayed at home with my younger two sisters. I had done some roles and gigs and stuff, but The Lion King was my first big, big break. I was young at the time, so it was a lot of responsibility.
So I feel like I relate to the character in that way, because Nala has to find her journey, take on her journey, and leave her family behind, but she lets them know she will return with something better. I feel like that's what I was doing when I was 17 years old. Learning the character and coming into my own in the character, I kind of related in that way because I'm a young woman, and I'm going out into the world trying to figure out who I am, and I did it. I would like to consider myself a princess warrior, I guess [laughs].
And how has playing this role affected you? It sounds like you've grown up with it.
Yes! I really have! Outside of just growing as an entertainer and a singer with The Lion King, just being in this show and being on the tour specifically has made me very mature, but it's given me a worldly experience. I've been so many different places. I've met so many talented people just within the show, and being able to travel has helped me grow not only off stage but on stage.
This character has forced me to never stop growing. The show is the same, but you go through things in your life that make you different every day, and it forces me to continue to grow all the time. And I'm super grateful for that. It's just a very special experience. To be in a show that's literally the same age as me is super humbling. It's super-duper humbling that I get to be part of a legacy that has been around as long as I've been around.
It's so awesome to be in a role that you like and connect with.
It really is. The creators and directors always keep our show very fresh. And opening this new tour, we had an opportunity to actually sit down and be in a rehearsal and tech the show. I've never been part of an experience like that before. It was amazing to do! So I got a lot of one-on-one time with the directors, and it was amazing to hear Julie Taymor's encouraging words throughout the whole rehearsal period. So I had the opportunity to be around people who are smarter than me [laughs], and also make sure that I'm continuing to grow as a woman and as a character.
For people who saw it a few years ago when I came to the Fox, they are really going to see a brand new Nala. I was 18 at the time, when I was in Atlanta, and now I'm 22. We're five years in, so even people who have seen the show before will have a whole new experience. I can't wait!
Now that sounds exciting! So for you specifically, how do you keep your character fresh?
Well, I physically always make sure I stay in shape. I'm always working out, weight training, doing yoga, Pilates, stuff like that. But I think to keep it fresh every night with intention in the show, sometimes it comes from thinking of my mom and dad, or maybe I ran into someone that day who inspired me in a way. I keep it fresh by always picking a purpose behind it, whether it be a person or a thing or item or goal, I keep it fresh in my own mind. And then I use my cast mates too. We all go through different things, and we're different every single day. So being on stage with so many people, it's never the same every night. That's the beautiful thing about live theatre!
So true! Anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Well, they can follow me on all social media. I love interacting with people who come to the show. Let me know what you think, and I love to just talk! I'm super excited to be coming home and staying in my own bed, seeing everyone in my hometown, and enjoying just sitting and getting some Southern hospitality, because I've been up North a lot. I'm ready for some "Y'alls" some "Heys"! I'm really excited to come home.
Nia Holloway (Nala) is ecstatic to join the cast of The Lion King. As an actress, vocalist and dancer, Nia has appeared at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, on the Hub Network show "Majors and Minors" and at various other venues as a live performer. She thanks God and her family and friends for all of their love and support.