Eric Emch

A Lion King Star's Amazing Journey

Singing Since Childhood Dlamini, 49, grew up in South Africa during apartheid, when racist govern­ ment policies kept whites and blacks separate. “You had to leave the country to freely express yourself through art or music,” she says. “You couldn’t even perform in the theater because of the racism.” Dlamini and her family formed their own band at church, where her father was a minister: “We made our own fun performing there.”

Feeling the Lion King Love Dlamini first came to Broadway at age 18 with a South African show called Sarafina and loved it so much she never left. But it wasn’t always easy. “There were no roles for someone from South Africa,” she says. “Finally The Lion King came, right on time.” After 20 years as an ensemble singer and in roles including Shenzi the hyena, she still loves performing eight shows a week, with only three weeks off a year: “You don’t look at it as a job. You look at it as art, and you come in with the mind­set to entertain people and give it 100 percent.”

Finding Two Families Married to fellow Lion King performer Bongi Duma, with a daughter, Zikhona, 9, Dlamini adores the tight­knit Broadway community. “We’re family,” she says. “We understand the struggle of balancing home and work. It’s very supportive, and as the years go by, much more diverse.” And though she worries about some
of her fellow immigrant performers in the current political climate, she remains positive: “America always gets it right in the end.”

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.