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A queen for a lion king: Columbus’ stage production pride led by local actress

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Jelani Remy as Simba and the ensemble performs ‘He Lives in You.’ Credit: Photo by Joan Marcus

Jelani Remy plays Simba while performing ‘He Lives in You’ with the ensemble.
Credit: Photo by Joan Marcus

Disney’s “The Lion King” is roaring into Columbus this week, and one Ohio native just can’t wait to be queen in her hometown.

Tryphena Wade, a Columbus native, portrays the character Queen Sarabi in the touring stage production of the 1994 Disney animated film, which opened Tuesday at the Ohio Theatre. Wade has been performing in the musical’s North American tour since 2010, and this will be her first hometown professional performance, according to a press release. 

The actress went through several auditions before she landed the part.

“I went to a few open calls in New York, and then I had the opportunity to audition in ‘The Lion King’s’ German production,” Wade said.

She auditioned for an opening in the play’s ensemble and to be an understudy for the role of Nala.

Even though she wasn’t cast, Wade was given another opportunity to audition for the North American production. But while she was auditioning for a role as one of the hyenas, Wade emerged as a queen.

“What I love is that I’m part of the ensemble and I also have a lead role. I kind of get the best of both worlds,” she said.

The musical shares a similar story as the film, with a few differences in the stage’s script.

“There are a few songs that are different, some songs in the movie that are not in the stage show and vice versa,” Wade said.

The film is brought to life with the audience having the opportunity to immerse themselves and interact with the characters, Wade said.

“It’s literally happening all around you, so it’s definitely more of an interactive and in-your-face experience,” she said.

Ever since she was young, Wade said she has had an interest in singing, dancing and acting. After graduating from high school, she left Ohio for Washington, D.C., where she majored in musical theater at Howard University.

Wade said her schooling at Howard went beyond the stage.

“I had to take classes in singing and in acting, as well as dance,” she said. “At Howard University, there was a big emphasis placed on understanding the business side of the industry, because a lot of times, people get caught up in just wanting to be on stage and wanting to perform, and they don’t learn the business side of things.”

Before “The Lion King,” Wade had roles in off-Broadway productions of “Black Nativity” and “The Trojan Women.” Like many new college students, Wade said that she had to learn how to survive in a new environment.

“You definitely have to learn how to be independent and self-sufficient,” she said. “After Howard, I eventually moved to New York, so I definitely had to learn how to survive on my own in New York and figure out how things work.”

After portraying Queen Sarabi for the past four years, Wade said she believes the character is different from other roles she has taken on for a variety of reasons, including her role in the ensemble as well as being on tour.

“Being on tour is a very different experience than regional theater or off-Broadway in the sense that you’re constantly moving around and constantly changing cities,” she said.

Wade has also discovered her motherly side while portraying Sarabi.

“I’m not a mother, I don’t have any children like she does, but just her love and her passion for her family,” she said. “I imagine when I become a mother, I will have the same kind of love for my children and wanting them to do well and be the best that they can be.”

Tryphena Wade, a Pickerington, Ohio, native who plays Sarabi in the North American tour of  ‘The Lion King.’ Credit: Photo by Joan Marcus

Tryphena Wade, a Columbus native who plays Sarabi in the North American tour of ‘The Lion King.’
Credit: Photo by Joan Marcus

After learning about an Ohio native being in the show, Navni Verma, a third-year graduate student studying mechanical engineering, wasn’t surprised by the fact.

“I don’t find it surprising because I think the (Columbus) theater scene is good, like I’ve seen some of these local groups perform, and it’s not surprising,” she said.

Carly Albanese, a second-year in early childhood education, said Wade’s presence in the show highlights the actors in Ohio.

“It’s great that they can make it in New York and represent their home state and show Ohio what they’ve accomplished,” she said.

To students interested in pursuing a career on Broadway or in acting, Wade said to take the time to become a well-rounded person, which will lead to becoming a well-rounded actor.

“Immerse yourself in whatever it is that you love. Learn as much as you can about it, see as much theater as you possibly can and do as much theater as you possibly can,” she said. 

After all, Wade not only immerses herself in her role, but also embodies it.

“I like to think of myself as a queen,” Wade said. 

Disney’s “The Lion King” is set to run through Nov. 9 at the Ohio Theatre. The show has a run time of 150 minutes.

Tickets range from $28 to $135 plus fees and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com.

 

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