Lindiwe Dlamini could never have imagined this success when she tried out for The Lion King in Minneapolis in 1997. But 20 years later, she’s still wowing audiences and living out her dream. As only her second Broadway credit, one may look at Dlamini’s resume and think she hasn’t had much success. However, she is one of the most successful Broadway stars, having been on the cast of the The Lion King for 20 years now. That is almost unheard of on Broadway!
In July of 1997, with an 8-week old daughter, Dlamini tried out for The Lion King. She grew up in a village called Umlazi in the city of Durban, South Africa. Both Lindiwe and her sister grew up singing under the direction of a minister father, and both eventually experienced success as openers for The Lion King. Her sister returned home to South Africa before embarking on an international tour, and Lindiwe remained on the cast, performing night after night and loving every minute. In fact, she eventually found her future husband in the cast, marrying ensemblist Bongi Duma in 2007.
Dlamini might just be the utmost expert on all things Lion King, but it was no easy task to get there. She mentions that she didn’t even know how to properly put on her lioness costume when she first started. In addition to this, she had many other roles and it was challenging to balance the act between all of her responsibilities.
Dlamini notes that she was not the only one who struggled, as the concept behind The Lion King was one never seen before. Learning to operate the puppets and move in time with them took much practice, and required an entirely new mindset, becoming one with the animal who you are portraying.
Despite being fluent in puppetry and music now, she still asserts that you must remain focused and diligent, or you could risk injuring yourself. “If you’re not careful, you can get injured, so you have to always be alert,” she says. Dlamini says that she enjoys every performance, even though she’s done more than 8,000. She is an artist, she says, and “We make people feel better when things are tough…so we are here to make sure people come out of this show feeling good. And it does that for us too.”
Dlamini sees Broadway’s rendition of Pride Rock as a sort of oasis. “I come into this building…you just feel uplifted.” There is a certain positive energy that she ascertains keeps the show fresh. Of course, new cast members coming and going also keeps it fresh and provides plenty of new challenges, all of which Dlamini is ready and eager to take on. She can transform herself every night, singing along to The Circle of Life and connecting with cast members, audience members, and her Lion King character all at the same time.