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Syndee Winters: Lion Queen

The thrill and spectacle of The Lion King, at Shea’s through the end of October, can only be as exciting as the performers charged to sustain it, night after night. Even among member of a strong cast, when Syndee Winters took to the stage as Nala, I sat up and took notice. She’s a wonderful performer. Moreover, she’s called upon to hold her own in one of Disney’s decidedly boy shows.Winters plays grown up Nala, the devoted friend of Simba, who grows up to become the Lion King. Surprisingly, her journey as a performer did not begin with dance lessons when she was three years old.

“I didn’t begin dancing until high school,” Winters reveals. “I thought I got the short end of the stick because, I was not exposed at an early age. But I always loved to sing and dance.”

Winters explains that while her parents ensured that she had plenty of other activities to engage her, the schools where she grew up in the Miami, Florida area simply did not have arts programs until the upper grades.

“I went to gymnastics. I studied piano for a little while. But it was really a matter of after I tried these things, I was done. Then, when I was 15 or 16, I got the chance to dance, that was it!”

For that reason, while on tour with The Lion King, Winters especially enjoys those occasions when she’s invited to go into schools to encourage children in the performing arts.

“I love being able to touch base with the kids, and talk about what they like,” she says. “It’s fun to teach them secrets and talk about breathing and performance, and basically about having fun! From the ages of eight to 13, that’s really the main thing—are you having fun? Are you connecting with the music? Are you connecting with your piece?

“From that base you can add technical training, and you’re on your way.”

Feeling for the art is very important to Winters.

“I don’t care how much technical proficiency a performer has,” she says. “The emotional connection is more important to me. A boring singer is a boring singer, no matter how good the technique. It all comes down to interpretation.”

Winters uses this philosophy to keep her Lion King performance fresh, city after city, performance after performance—even after a year and a half on tour.

“It really is true that every performance is different; every audience is different; and with our wonderful cast, it is not difficult to keep this show exciting and new.”

For Winters, being in The Lion King was the realization of a longtime dream.

“I was 10 years old when I first heard about the musical,” she recalls, “and I became obsessed with it. Years later, after I had my audition, I came home and pretended that nothing was going on. I remember that my mother was making dinner. My sister, who was seven years old at the time, was there. I was totally nonchalant. My mother asked me what was new and I said, ‘I got Nala.’

“We screamed!”

Before then, Winters had been an NBA dancer for the New York Knicks. She’d done commercials. She’d been in music videos. She had a concert background. The Lion King is her first big Broadway show and she’s loving every minute.

“I remember growing up and loving Prince and Michael Jackson, and Paula Abdul, and Janet Jackson,” she says. “I think about the kids who come to see us. They know the story from the movie, and they know the story ends happily. They look forward to hearing certain songs. I hope when they come to the show they can find their own inspiration. And that’s what we all strive to provide every single time we go on stage!”

For more Syndee Winters inspiration, and information about her recording career, visit

The Lion King continues at Shea’s through October 30.