Diana Exclusive Q & A Interview with Martha Sykes aka Shenzi with The Lion King Musical

January 24, 2022

Performances Begin on January 27, 2022 and Play

Through February 20, 2022 at the Detroit Opera House

Senior Writer: Diana Brang-Scott

Approaching 24 landmark years on Broadway, The Lion King continues ascendant as one of the most popular stage musicals in the world. Since its premiere on November 13, 1997, 25 global productions have been seen by nearly 110 million people. Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions (under the direction of Thomas Schumacher), The Lion King has made theatrical history with six productions worldwide running 15 or more years, with four of those running 20 or more years. Having played over 100 cities in 21 countries on every continent except Antarctica, The Lion King’s worldwide gross exceeds that of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history.
The Lion King won six 1998 Tony Awards®: Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical. The Lion King has also earned more than 70 major arts awards including the 1998 NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the 1999 Grammy® for Best Musical Show Album, the 1999 Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Event of the Year and the 1999 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Choreography and Best Costume Design.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Martina Sykes who plays the part of Shenzi. Martina grew up in St. Petersburg Florida in a musical and talented family. She was emersed in the arts and attended performing arts schools from elementary through high school. Both her parents are musically inclined and one of her siblings is also on Broadway. Martina joked that as children her parents even had them do chores while music pumped through their house. She laughed and said, “As kids we knew how far along we were cleaning by what genre was playing, If we were hearing Motown we had a long way to go, but if Michael Jacksons “Bad” was on, we were almost out the door and done.”

Martina graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Public Relations in 2010 but credits her brother’s persistence for encouraging her to follow her dreams and talents as a performer. “He was acting in the show Memphis at the time and kept calling me and said to come up to New York and just try musical theatre, I think your sitting on your gift. I was hesitant at first, but I did it and booked my first small job with in the first week and the rest is history.”

Martina plays the role of Shenzi in The Lion King. Martina said, “One thing I really love about this show is that a lot of the female characters are incredibly strong. They are the backbone of this production. Rafiki is the storyteller the strong matriarch of the show, Nahla is a fierce warrior, and even the villains are strong. Shenzi is the leader of the hyenas she is scar's right-hand woman, she is a boss, she is witty and intelligent, the alpha bad guy.” She laughed and said, “I like being the bad guy it's a lot of fun.”

I asked Martina what was the biggest challenge about the role of Shenzi in The Lion King? She said, “It was definitely the puppetry. We are down on all fours for the entire show, and they are full body puppets. The costume weighs around 20lbs, learning the hand eye coordination to move the puppet was the hardest part, and I am left-handed and the puppet is a right handed one so trying to get that dexterity was difficult.”

The Broadway score features Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs from The Lion King animated film along with three new songs by John and Rice additional musical material by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer and music from "Rhythm of the Pride Lands," an album inspired by the original music in the film, written by Lebo M, Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer. The resulting sound of The Lion King is a fusion of Western popular music and the distinctive sounds and rhythms of Africa, ranging from the Academy Award®-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to Lebo M’s rich choral numbers.

With such an incredible score, I asked Martina if she had a favorite song, she said “One by One” it is a song at the top of Act 2, the song is sung in Zulu. It is a very uplifting number that is about apartheid. The words are ‘One by one we will overtake our oppressors and if you feel down look to me and we will get through this one by one’.”

Come out and see Martina and the entire cast of The Lion King and arrive early because you do not want to miss the first few minutes! Martina said, “Rafiki's initial call is going to blow the audience away and you do not want to miss the entrance it is incredible and breath taking.”

Tickets for The Lion King are available at the Fisher Theatre Box Office, online at Ticketmaster.com and BroadwayInDetroit.com. Performances begin on January 27, 2022 and play through February 20, 2022 at the Detroit Opera House.

For more information worldwide, visit LionKing.com, Facebook and Instagram.