Just Can’t Wait to be Queen

A Midwestern girl ascends to the throne of a starring role in The Lion King

It’s a long way from Nebraska to the Las Vegas Strip, but Samantha Ware made the trek in near record time. It took the 19-year-old less than a year to go from being a sophomore at Doane College—a private liberal arts university near Lincoln—to starring as Nala in The Lion King at Mandalay Bay beginning last month.

“It’s been a very surreal experience, I think I kind of blacked out on opening night because there was so much going on,” says Ware, who became the youngest adult member of the cast when she debuted on June 13.

Ware’s fast-paced journey started in October when she heeded a friend’s advice to attend an open casting call for the Disney musical in Chicago. Producers were so pleased they asked her to try out for the role of Nala for the New York production in December. She didn’t make the final cut, but the directors quickly offered her the same role in the Las Vegas show.

“I didn’t expect to even get as far as the second callback in Chicago,” Ware says. “Growing up in Nebraska, everyone is like you’re going to get so many no’s. You probably won’t have a job until you’re 30.”

Even though Ware had just landed the biggest gig of her life, she wasn’t going to wait until her Vegas rehearsals began in May to get to work—she took off the spring semester from school to work alongside Sally Struthers in the musical Chicago in Kansas City.

“It was a blessing to have her before doing this show. I never had worked with somebody who was that big before,” Ware says. “She gave me tons of advice on how to keep my mind straight and stay out of all the cruddy things that some people get into.”

While the veteran actress might have prepared Ware mentally for the bright lights of Las Vegas, balancing the animalistic dancing and synchronized singing needed for the role of Nala proved to be another challenge.

“My body wasn’t quite conditioned yet to be able to sing like I normally could after just running and dancing,” says the petite Ware, who ran track and swam in high school.

“I was kind of out of breath there in the beginning. Plus there’s all that running around backstage. It really is a jungle back there with all the props and costumes.”

When it was finally time for her debut, Ware had to tame the butterflies in her stomach. “I was pretty nervous going into that first performance,” she says. “But I was able to mask that when the actual show started, and the energy of the audience and my adrenaline kicked in.”

While Ware admits to being a bit dizzy from the quick life transformation, her theater professor at Doane, Robin McKercher, knew her superstar student would succeed. “She’s got a great set of pipes, as we say. She’s an incredible talent,” McKercher said in a May interview with The Lincoln Journal Star.

Ware doesn’t plan to return home after the The Lion King closes in December, but like any girl her age, she’s not quite certain of what she’ll do next. She might concentrate on performing full-time or resume school in either New York or Los Angeles.

“A degree is one of the things in my life that I know I will get eventually. I don’t know if I’ll get it in the next two years, but it will get done,” said Ware, who is double majoring in music education and theater.

“Obviously I’d love to work on Broadway some day. But no matter what, I can say that I was once in a show on the famous Las Vegas Strip,” Ware says.

“I’ve had my mind set on this for a long time. But to actually being doing it at such a young age is like a dream come true.”