St. Louis native Sophia Stephens has come home for the anticipated return of The Lion King, now running at the Fabulous Fox. But you won’t find her in the crowd, as Sophia is taking the stage as Sarabi in the touring production. Her past credits include Guys and Dolls, Bubbling Brown Sugar (Grandel Theater), and she’s even been a 2003 Woody Award Recipient for St. Lucy’s Eyes. Vital VOICE chatted with Sophia on one of the few breaks she has between performances and rehearsals on her grand homecoming here to STL.
The Lion King is always such a hit wherever it goes. What is it about the show that gets everyone so excited?
Well, I think the first thing is the cartoon. I remember watching it when I was a kid. And then to see something, it’s almost like a book and then a movie. I guess that may not be the best example because some people don’t like that. But to actually see something that you were so connected to and, you know, visualize. People are drawn to the puppetry. They’re drawn to the music and the story of forgiveness and redemption, so audiences keeping coming. It’s one of the many things that people are attracted to about the show.
What is your favorite part of the show?
Endless Night, when Simba is singing to his father and he’s just asking where is he for direction. He is so lost at this point of the show. He’s lost his identity; he’s lost who he is. And he begins to hear his ancestors and the spirits around him encourage him that it’s almost over. The pain, the struggle, it’s almost over. And the light, the answer, and the victory is coming. That is encouraging to say, that everything is okay. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t get tired of seeing that.
And how does it feel to be coming back to St. Louis?
It feels good, because I’m in a different role. The last tour, I was on as the ensemble, and then I was on as the lead the rest of the run, which was incredible. And now coming back, I’ll be Simba’s mom, so it’s cool because I get to play around, and I was not covering that role when I first came to St. Louis with the show. So I have a little diversity in the tracks that I’m doing.
Is there any other role in The Lion King that you would like to give a shot at?
I would probably want to give a shot at Rafiki.
Is there anything different or unique about this production that we should be on the lookout for?
The cast that we have now, they are incredible. And I would say that when you have new people come in, it’s always new energy that’s brought into a company. So that would be the biggest change. I mean, they’re gonna see a new Nala if they saw it last time. They’re gonna see a new Sarabi, which will be me. They’re gonna see a new Mufasa. These characters, the people who were playing these roles are great, and that is the biggest change. But as far as the story goes, there isn’t much change.
What are your thoughts on Disney remakes, like something they did with Beauty and the Beast?
I am extremely excited. I recently saw Beauty and the Beast and, you know, sometimes when you have a good thing, don’t fool around with it. But I enjoyed it so much; I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. And it just got me even more excited about what they’re going to do with The Lion King. And I saw a little trailer of it, so I am on edge. And I feel like it’s good to grow. You don’t want to be afraid to move with the times, you know what I mean? Like, technology’s advancing. Cinematography’s advancing. So let’s go further. We’re going to have a whole new generation of kids to be more excited about The Lion King, because it’s being shown to them in the way they like to view their cartoons, or you know, theater.
Being back in St. Louis, are there any special spots, any must-stop-at places for you?
Well, Imo’s Pizza. I’m from St. Louis and a lot of people may throw their nose at Imo’s, but Imo’s is definitely going to happen. This may sound crazy, but do we still have The Pasta House? I’m definitely going to Pasta House. And this Chinese restaurant right around the corner from my house. I’ll be going there. And also Ted Drewes. And, oh, gooey butter cake. I don’t care where I have to go to get it. I’m getting me gooey butter cake.
Duh! Well Sophia, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Come on out! I’m often surprised at how many people come to see the show every single night. I would just say, you know, keep coming. People can bring their children, that’s the great thing about the show. You can bring anyone. It’s an all-age type show. And there’s a reason the show’s a cultural phenomenon.
For more information on The Lion King and to get your tickets before it closes May 7, click here. V
by Kevin Schmidt