BACKSTAGE BANTER: A globe-trotting NALA…
Get to know Noku Khuzwayo

by Angela on December 16, 2012 · 4 comments

Noku Khuzwayo knows the universe works in mysterious ways.

Noku as Nala, lurking around backstage

But as lucky as she’s been to be in the right place at the right time, armed with natural talent, Noku still works just as hard as the next Broadway star. This Durban, South Africa native never thought she’d have a career as a performer; while many young girls were taking dance and singing classes, Noku enjoyed performing as a mere hobby. She took a job as a debt collector at a call center in Durban, and on a whim decided to audition for The Lion King since so many people she knew were trying out.

Little did she know that she’d be starring in the biggest international musical of all time.

She was hired to sing in the Lion King South Africa ensemble and to understudy Nala. Then she joined the Taipei, Las Vegas and Gazelle Touring cast, in the same capacity. Soon, she was called in to play Nala outright for a few months on the U.S. tour, and currently reigns as Simba’s BFF in the long-running Hamburg, Germany production.

There’s so much to learn about Noku. As much as this Nala has traveled the world, she’s certainly stayed a physical force to be reckoned with. She’s kicked my butt in Crossfit when we took classes together in Greenville last summer, and consistently trounced most of the men in those classes. And she loves to love on Max. Plus, she has a twin sister who has followed in her footsteps! Read on!

Max (8 months old) and Noku backstage in Las Vegas


Q: After years in the ensemble, how did you feel when you got the news that you were cast as Nala?

Noku: I got the call when I was in the ladies room at Disneyworld, the day after my last day covering for Portia (another ensemble singer) who was on maternity leave. I was shaking. I went to my friends who were waiting for me and I started jumping up and down. My sister was there too. What I remember most is my twin giving me a very tight hug, crying. We were both crying and she said “I’m proud of you and I love you.” I was so excited about doing the tour. That meant I was going to be the first South African to be given a 1st cast Nala contract in the US. I couldn’t believe it, even though it was on my wish list.

Noku and Calvin Grandling in the Lion King Taipei production

Q: Tell me about this twin sister of yours. Have you ever been tempted to have her get on stage as you?

Noku: My twin sister, Nokwanda “love of my life” Khuzwayo — I don’t see her as often as I would like. Too many times I thought about letting her go on stage in my place, and I know she’d ROCK. Actually, who said I hadn’t? *wink*  Well I’m proud to say she recently got hired to do her own track in Lion King Brazil!

Noku and Nokwanda – can you tell who is who? Photo by Maurica Roland.

Q: How has your daily routine and show preparation changed now that you are playing Nala, versus the ensemble?

Noku: Switching from the ensemble to 1st cast Nala has made me more focused I think. I never really cared about vocal warm-ups and stretching, drinking enough water, going through the script and resting. It’s so different now. But I still workout. That’s not gonna change!

Q: What’s it been like to adjust to Germany?

Noku: At first, the news of Germany scared me, because it meant learning a new language, culture and all, but again I told myself that I’ll learn. :)Hamburg is beautiful! The language is not easy. I go through my text everyday, and study the phonetics. And I take a train and a boat to work!

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge in learning the show in German?

Noku: Learning the songs and dialogue in German meant I had to forget English, because it’s “too soft”.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the show now?

Noku: As Nala, I love fighting Simba. It makes me feel strong! But in the whole show, I love Circle of Life!

Jelani Remy (Simba on the Gazelle tour) and Noku take a break between shows.
Photo by Maurica Roland.

Q: What’s the funniest thing that happened to you during a show?

Noku: When I was singing “Schattenland”, after Rafiki’s blessing, I went on with the song as usual but little did I know, one of the lionesses didn’t move when the others were leaving, she was entranced watching me sing! I thought it was funny when the others told me later. Also, once I fell during the fight and forgot my lines. Hmmm. That wasn’t so funny.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynn Sanchez December 17, 2012 at 12:33 am

I saw the show at the Orpheum two days ago and it was amazing! Everyone is extremely talented and I can see why Disney would want to keep everyone in the show working as long as possible cuz talent like this is pretty rare! Keep up the good work Noku and everyone!


ANGELIQUE December 17, 2012 at 10:32 am



Kiran December 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Nice interview!


steve December 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm

the actors in this show are all amazing. imagine doing this in another language! this blows my mind!


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