Nala actress shares joy at ‘Lion King’ tour reunion in Cleveland



Playhouse Square has become a part of musical theater history as it hosts a merry reunion for Disney’s “The Lion King” North American tour company after 18 months apart.

The cast, which is relaunching their two-week Cleveland tour starting Friday at the State Theater, celebrated their emotional first rehearsal on September 7 in a Playhouse Square venue, where there were plenty of hugs and a few tears.

Actress Kayla Cyphers, who plays Nala on the show, said the reunion experience at the show’s first table read in Cleveland made her feel like she was back home with her family.

“The emotions were so strong and positive, and it was amazing to be back in the room with everyone and having everyone like loving each other,” Cyphers said.

The actress, 26, had been on the tour for six months before COVID-19 hit in March 2020, closing theaters and laying tens of thousands of professional actors out of work across the country.

On September 7 in Cleveland, as Rafiki’s understudy Mukelisiwe Goba began singing the opening number “Circle of Life” during the rehearsal, the cast members stood up and applauded.

“It’s just that first call she gives. It really brought everyone back and it really opened everyone’s hearts and emotions and it got us all turned on,” Cyphers said. “Many people were crying with happiness and joy.”

See the tour rehearsal video at

Cyphers, from Southern California, said she cried that day after performing Nala’s “Shadowland”. In that number, the villainous Scar took control of the Pridelands and let the hyenas run wild and eat all the food. Nala then decides to go get help.

“She kind of struggles with that fear and really finds her strength in herself to take this journey and save her family,” Cyphers said.

Kayla Cyphers (Nala) shares a happy moment with Darian Sanders (Simba) at Playhouse Square on September 7, the first day of rehearsals for the Reunited North American tour of "The Lion King."

The actress said she was a little nervous to start over “because you haven’t been out of your house for 18 months”. The cast also had to get back into shape. Cyphers, who is based in New York City, made sure she spends time in the gym, as Nala does a lot of moves and jumps.

The cast will have rehearsed for 3.5 weeks in Cleveland by the time the show reopens for premieres Friday night, with the official opening on October 5.

“The Lion King,” one of the world’s most popular musicals, won six Tony Awards in 1998. The show reopened September 14 on Broadway and July 29 in London’s West End.

On the second day of the Cleveland rehearsals, the cast began digging deeper into the script, dances, and vocals.

“The minute you walk into this room and hear your comrades say the lines, and then you have the line afterwards, it comes back to you,” Cyphers said.

The “The Lion King” tour ended 18 months ago in South Bend, Indiana, with the cast only expecting a two-week hiatus. This break has continued to lengthen. And extended.

During the long hiatus, production had occasional Zoom meetings to hit the base.

“We were assured like, ‘Someday we’ll be back. We don’t know when, but we’ll be back,'” Cyphers said.

That day has finally arrived. During the pandemic interim, Cyphers got engaged to actor Ken Neely, whom she married on May 1. They had played opposite each other in a production of the musical “Aida” in Long Island in 2019.

Now, the cast of the “The Lion King” tour has eight new members. And Cyphers is now playing opposite a prominent new man: Darian Sanders as Simba. He was on the set of the show before it closed.

“We’re friends; we’re close. We’re dating,” Cyphers said of Sanders. “It was really easy to play the part of Simba and Nala with him.”

“I feel lucky to have this moment where we can all build the show again,” she said.

Artistic writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]


Musical: “The Lion King”

Or: Playhouse Square State Theater

When: From Friday to October 15, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. No performance 6:30 p.m. on October 3.

Cost: $ 29 to $ 195

Information: or 216-241-6000

COVID Requirements: All members of the public should be fully immunized or test negative for COVID-19. Masks required. See

Kayla Cyphers as Nala, Buyi Zama as Rafiki on Disney's North American Tour


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