Meet Nia Thompson, the 12-year-old Actress Lighting up Broadway as Young Nala in ‘The Lion King’


March 12, 2024

In the dazzling world of Broadway, the dreams of one young actress are taking center stage. Nia Thompson, at the tender age of twelve, has secured her place in the limelight as the new Young Nala in the iconic production of The Lion King. Because of Them We Can had an exclusive chat with Nia’s mother, Gessie, about her journey from a dreamer in the audience to a shining star on stage.

Nia snaps a selfie in her Young Nala costume. Courtesy of Nia Thompson.

Nia’s passion for the stage ignited during a pivotal moment in her childhood. Her mother recalls, “I took Nia to see KeKe Palmer in her historic performance as the first Black Disney princess on Broadway in Cinderella. As the curtains closed, she turned to me and said, ‘I’m supposed to be on the stage.'” This declaration echoed in Nia’s words when she first encountered the stage in her new school’s auditorium during pre-K. At the age of six, Nia shared her desire to be part of her first project by the time she turned seven or eight. Gessie, fueled by the specificity of her daughter’s aspirations, began a search for Nia’s agent, setting the wheels in motion for what would be an extraordinary journey.

Sharron Lynn Williams with Nia and friends. Courtesy of Gessie Thompson.

Nia’s love for The Lion King blossomed on her eighth birthday when she set foot in the Minskoff Theater for the first time. A backstage tour, guided by the late Sharron Lynn Williams, a seven-year ensemble member, became a pivotal moment. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Nia confidently declared, “I want to be in The Lion King!” Sharron’s words, encouraging her to envision herself on that very stage, were taken to heart. Four years later, on the eve of her twelfth birthday, Nia made her Broadway debut as Young Nala.


Gessie Thompson emphasizes that, despite this extraordinary experience, Nia remains a normal twelve-year-old navigating the challenges of adolescence. Nia’s commitment to her craft extends beyond the stage; she is punctual for call times, diligently studies her art at home, and actively engages in personal growth and development. Aware of the significance of representation, Nia embraces her role with grace, grit, and gratitude. The elder Thompson notes, “She is very intentional about being a role model that inspires others in marginalized communities that they too belong on Broadway — or wherever their dreams take them.”

Kajuana S. Marie (L) with Scott Irby-Ranniar, Broadway’s original Young Nala and Young Simba. Credit: The Walt Disney Company and Hyperion Publishing

Nia joins a lineage of talented women who have portrayed Young Nala over the years. Kajuana S. Marie, the actress who originated the role of Young Nala on Broadway in The Lion King‘s 1997 debut, shared her best wishes for Nia with BOTWC: “I’ve seen many young talented girls fill the shoes of Young Nala on Broadway, and each and every one of them kills it, bringing their own unique spin. I have no doubts that this will be any different. Wishing Nia all the best!”


In a heartwarming gesture, Nia recently hosted a backstage tour for a five-year-old named Jordan from Chicago. Gessie shares, “Her wonder and joy were palpable as Nia took pictures with her and told her all about the show.” Nia paid forward the inspiration she received from Sharron, encouraging Jordan to see herself on the stage one day. As she graces the stage as Young Nala, Nia shines not only as a star but also as an inspiration for every young dreamer, reminding them that their dreams belong on the grandest stages of life.

Cover photo: Meet Nia Thompson, the 12-year-old Actress Lighting up Broadway as Young Nala in ‘The Lion King’ / Courtesy of Gessie Thompson

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