Ta'Rea Campbell in The Lion King
Age: “I was born in the past.”
Currently: Prowling around the Minskoff Theatre as The Lion King’s Nala, the fierce lioness whose love gives Simba the strength to rejoin the circle of life.
Ta’Rea! I’ve Just Met a Girl Named Ta’Rea: “I always thought, ‘Oh, Ta’Rea, no one else has that name!’” the actress says with a smile. “But when I started taking sixth-grade Spanish I found out—in Spanish, my name means ‘homework.’ My mother didn’t know! It would say on the board: ‘La tarea: Chapter one through three by tomorrow.’ So the kids thought that I had to do all the homework.” These days, Campbell doesn’t sweat the fact that everyone mispronounces her name: “I always say, ‘It’s Ta’Rea like Maria.’”
Not Everything Was Beautiful at the Ballet: As a kid in Philadelphia, Campbell eagerly enrolled in a dance class. “I loved it,” she recalls, “but I was horrible! I was really, really bad. Then one day, I lost my ballet slipper before class, and my mom didn’t look too hard to find it. I don’t know—maybe she hid it.” More likely, Campbell muses, her mother was subtly steering her toward singing and acting. “I am a dancer in my heart of hearts, but not in public. At least not in the ballet sense.”
School Ties: After attending Philly’s Performing Arts School, Campbell toyed with attending NYU. “But one of the people in my high school decided to go to Marymount Manhattan College; he was a drama major,” she says. “He told us about how great it was, and 11 people from my high school came to Marymount together. It was like I had this family; it was really great. Normally you go to college to break away from everything in high school, but for us it worked out. We all became [resident advisers] together, stayed in the same dorm and still talk to this day.”
She’s a Disney Girl in a Disney World: Campbell was already a member of Broadway’s Mickey Mouse club when she auditioned for The Lion King: Just after college, she toured with Aida and eventually stood by on Broadway for star Deborah Cox and performed the title role at matinees. Initially, however, she was passed over to play Nala: “I was too short. They like for the Simbas and the Nalas to be comparable height. Later, they called and offered me the part. So it just goes to show for anyone who gets a rejection, when the casting director says, ‘We’ll keep you on file,’ they do!”
Riding the Wave: Before arriving at the Minskoff in March, Campbell toured for three years with The Lion King. “We went everywhere from San Antonio—which is one of my favorite cities—to Mexico City and then Hawaii for three months, which was not sucky! Portland, Chicago—a bunch of great cities.” But back to Hawaii for a minute. “We were in Honolulu and stayed in Waikiki, and a couple of us had a Saturday-morning surf club. It takes a lot of strength in the upper body, because you have to lug around the board and then swim back out, and I am not the best swimmer in the world! But you could go really, really far out, and the water wasn’t deep, so when I fell off the board—which I did every time—I wouldn’t be in danger of going over my head. My biggest challenge was learning how to fall correctly. You have to make sure you don’t fall too wildly. Your board is still attached to your ankle!”
Confessions of a Shopaholic: “Touring is a great way to see the country,” Campbell points out. “And I bought a car; I liked to drive from city to city if it wasn’t really far. The Lion King stayed for six or seven weeks, so you really got to see everything the city had to offer.” Such as… “Personally? I went to the mall. I love to shop, and whenever I got to a new city I’d find out where the mall was.” Okay, so which cities have the best shopping? “Oh, wow, that’s hard! I’m a bargain hunter, so I will say that I can find a bargain anywhere.” Campbell will be with the Broadway company through the end of October, then leaves to do The Lion King at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. P.S. Ta’Rea? We hear there’s some great shopping in Sin City.