Former SIUE student Sophia Stephens lands lead role in The Lion King

Sophia Stephens as Nala. Photo courtesy of Sophia Stephens.

The Lion King has just finished its run at The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis. From August 15 until September 2, St. Louisians and those in the Metro East could enjoy the acclaimed show, and during about half that time, some may have recognized a local name and former SIUE student on the Playbill: Sophia Stephens.

Stephens, who was an understudy for the The Lion King, landed the lead female role of Nala for many of the showings in St. Louis. She had been understudying the part for eight years and found an opportunity when the actress playing the role went on vacation. Stephens has played the role before, but playing it in St. Louis at The Fox made it even better for her.

“The role has been a joy for me to play. Playing it in St. Louis has been the icing on the cake,” she says.

Stephens’ hometown is Normandy, MO, and she always dreamed of performing at The Fox. She has been in several productions of The Lion King around the nation, but being able to play Nala in St. Louis is especially great since family and friends who could not make it to New York or elsewhere could see her perform, which she says was “really incredible.”

Stephens’ theatre background began when she was child, as she always loved to sing in church and to participate in school plays. She attended SIUE after she graduated high school, and that’s when she felt that her acting and singing really took off.

“I did a couple of shows in high school, but the training really began at SIUE, which is why I credit that school the most for my theatre background,” says Stephens.

Sophia Stephens in full costume as Nala. Photo courtesy of Sophia Stephens.

Stephens attended SIUE for three years, and she was able to work with the late Assistant Professor Lisa Colbert and Emeritus Professor William Grivna, whom she credits for giving her a solid foundation in theatre education. “The things they taught me took me really, really far,” she says.

She also worked at the The Black Repertory Theatre while atttending SIUE and appeared in productions such as Guys and Dolls, Bubbling Brown Sugar, and Damn Yankees. It was at SIUE and The Black Repertory Theatre where Stephens’ love of theatre and “being able to portray reality…[yet] escaping reality into a new world” was kindled.

After her time at SIUE and with The Black Repertory Theatre, Stephens moved to New York City, where she became an understudy for The Lion King. She has loved the opportunities she has had to play Nala, as she enjoys singing Nala’s solo, “Shadowlands,” and popular songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” She finds being able to perform on The Lion King is especially gratifying because of how familiar everyone is with the story and the songs.

“Those are all popular songs, and for a singer, it’s really fun to be able to sing music that people are attached to in some kind of way,” she says.

While she has enjoyed living back her hometown for the last two years and fulfilling her dream of performing at The Fox, Stephens is preparing to move back to New York City next month. While there, she wants to take more theatre classes, start networking, and get some auditions. Her goal is to break into television and film, and she is very optimistic about reaching that goal.

“I really don’t have any fear. I feel like if it’s for me, I’m going to get it…If I prepare myself and believe, everything else will take care of itself,” she says.

Stephens believes that when people have a dream, a direction, and passion, there is nothing stopping them. Her accomplishments and avid willingness to learn shows that she is living proof that this is possible.

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