When singer Buyi Zama decided to accompany a friend to an audition for the musical version of The Lion King, she had no acting experience and was taken aback when the director, after explaining the story to her, asked her to “walk like Rafiki.” Somehow, she stumbled through what followed and got the gig, which has taken her around the world and, finally, to Houston’s Hobby Center. Julie Taymor, who made her name as a director putting this on Broadway, had decided Rafiki, the baboon, should be female rather than the male version seen in the movie.
“Rafiki is a person that takes care of everyone. Rafiki means ‘friend,’” said Zama, who is from South Africa. “When I’m onstage and I get to help people, it’s so so natural to me. I guess Rafiki is more like my mom, and my mom is a woman I would like to become.”
Zama’s first production was in London, and when it came time to travel to her home country, she didn’t know how she’d be received. For one thing, there were all those languages Rafiki spoke. Zama’s own first language is Zulu, so that was a snap. But she also had to speak Suto (a language of the Transvaal), and although she knows some of it, she isn’t fluent and knew if she mispronounced something she’d be nailed for that. “I had to make sure I was perfect at home.” As it turned out, the South African audiences loved the production, she said. “It’s a beautiful story. Every day I get different messages from it. It’s a story that everyone can identify with for when they were younger. It takes them back to their childhood.” 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Through August 12. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: July 10. Continues through Aug. 12, 2012