Syndee Winters
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Syndee Winters

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"Out of the Lion’s Den…Introducing Syndee Winters…"

One of South Florida’s very own is coming back home and in a BIG way! Actress Syndee Winters, who graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High School and attended Miami Dade College, Kendall campus, is now called Nala (at least when she’s in the touring production of The Lion King, which is coming to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami May 15-June 10. That’s because she has the starring role as the adult Nala, the future wife of Simba, the big cat in the production.

It’s a role that Winters, 25, says she was born to play. “When The Lion King movie first came out, I knew then that I wanted to play Nala because I was born to sing the song ‘Shadowland’. When I moved to New York, my agent got me a tryout for the Broadway version of TLK back in 2007, but I never got a callback. I thought it wasn’t my time. Three years later, I got another call to tryout again and I’ve been on tour with TLK for two years now.”

Before moving to New York, she taught at several South Florida dance studios and also lent her talents to teaching dance to inner-city youth. She also was a background dancer in several Reggaeton videos that were shot here. Says Winters, “I started my formal dance training when I was 15, in high school, when it was still free and available in high school.” She laments the fact that schools are taking the arts out of the curriculum.

After her move up north, she became a Knicks City dancer for The New York Knicks, performing during halftime shows. Though dancing, singing and acting came naturally to her, Winters says after she didn’t get that first callback, she hired a vocal coach and took up more acting classes to hone her skills so that she would really be ready when the call came again—and it did.

And that brings us back to why she’s returned home to South Florida—her starring role in TLK. So has life changed for her and those around her in how they treat her now that she’s a Broadway star? Winters replies, “Friends from school find me on Facebook and congratulate me and that’s fantastic, but the folks who’ve known me for my entire life, like my best, best friend-she stays with a needle in her hand—ready to pop that bubble whenever my head gets too big.” She adds, “But when I come home, there are some people that I have to see, no matter what.”

So what’s in store for Winters after TLK finally wraps up after years of touring from city to city? She says, “You know how when you’re younger, you always say ‘I want to be a famous singer’ or ‘I want every-one to know me and I want to be rich.’ Now what I want is to do more TV and film work, another Broadway show, and continue working on my own solo music project…. I want to do whatever comes my way.” - The Westside Gazette


"‘Lion King’ roars back, this time to Miami"

The Disney Theatrical Group is having a banner year. Two of its shows, the play Peter and the Starcatcher and the musical Newsies, are major contenders for the Tony Awards that will be presented June 10. And at the beginning of last month, a little Disney show called The Lion King claimed the crown of Broadway’s highest-grossing show from The Phantom of the Opera, earning $853,846,062 to Phantom’s $853,122,847 — despite the fact that Phantom has been running a decade longer.

Now that’s a king of the Broadway jungle.

South Florida has experienced the power of Disney’s biggest stage hit twice, in 2002 and 2007 when The Lion King had long runs at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Now it’s Miami’s turn to play host to director Julie Taymor’s Tony-winning triumph, as The Lion King plays the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts right up until a few hours before this year’s Tony telecast. Broadway touring shows that stop at the Arsht normally run one week. The Lion King will be in Miami for four.

“ The Lion King is the gold standard for us,” says Thomas Schumacher, the Disney Theatrical Group president who was running the company’s feature animation division when the smash Lion King movie came out in 1994. “It has had more productions than anything else, has reached the largest audience and is now the biggest money earner. It’s not tied to fashion or fad; it’s enduring … It’s an allegory, a story about our families and us.”

That it is. As its thematic anthem, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Circle of Life, suggests, the musical encompasses birth, death and everything in between. As in the movie, the noble lion king Mufasa sacrifices his own life to save his headstrong young son Simba. Mufasa’s evil brother Scar commits fratricide and rules over a dying kingdom. Young love blossoms when Simba reencounters his boyhood friend Nala, then finds the brave purpose that would make his late father proud. The darker elements of The Lion King’s universally resonant story are the stuff of Greek tragedy, but the reliably moving musical glows with a hopeful ending and many moments of beauty, joy and the celebration of life.

Before the long nightmare that was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — Taymor, that show’s original director and coauthor, was let go after a prolonged period of creative differences — she proved herself a visionary artist who could go beyond Disney’s wildest dreams with the way she transformed The Lion King from an animated children’s movie into a brilliant, beautifully designed piece of theater.

“Its essence is something we can all relate to,” says Colombia-born Felipe Gamba, Disney Theatrical’s director of international production strategy. “But it’s also the way Julie Taymor transformed the movie into a theatrical experience that touches you no matter what your culture … When Rafiki calls out in those opening moments, we all hear her. It summons everyone, regardless of their origins.”

Taymor is still involved with The Lion King, but it falls to associate director John Stefaniuk to make sure the various productions of the show hew to her vision and standards.

“I preserve the integrity of Julie’s work all over the world,” he says. “So many musicals become stale, and the audience isn’t getting the same show as the original … We put each cast through the same process that the actors went through before opening night on Broadway … I still feel excited and moved and engaged by this show.”

For two of the cast members in the Lion King’s touring company, playing the Arsht Center means coming home. Syndee Winters, a Palmetto High graduate, is playing the adult Nala, a role she has coveted since she was a child. Sharron Williams, a New World School of the Arts and Florida State University grad, plays multiple roles — a cheetah, a lioness, a wildebeest, a hyena and more. Both women trained as dancers and are thrilled to be performing in a show choreographed by Garth Fagan, a Tony-winning modern dance figure.

“When the show played South Florida before, I was in Miami but I couldn’t afford a ticket to see it,” says Winters, who plans to teach a class at her old high school while the show is at the Arsht. “When you come to see The Lion King, you suspend your disbelief. For the next two and a half hours, you belong to us. You could be the biggest, buffest guy, but when you hear Circle of Life, you’re affected. You get a lump in your throat. You get chills.”

Winters’ pal Williams, who will also teach a class while the show is in town, expects as many as 30 people in her extended family will see The Lion King during its Arsht run. For her, the show’s appeal is a combination of story, design, music and Fagan’s demanding choreography.

“When I first saw it, I laughed, I cried, I was touched in every way,” Williams says. “The work is challenging. The beat of the drums, the costumes, the music — they make you feel fierce. I get excited every time.”
- The Miami Herald


"‘Lion King’ roars back, this time to Miami"

The Disney Theatrical Group is having a banner year. Two of its shows, the play Peter and the Starcatcher and the musical Newsies, are major contenders for the Tony Awards that will be presented June 10. And at the beginning of last month, a little Disney show called The Lion King claimed the crown of Broadway’s highest-grossing show from The Phantom of the Opera, earning $853,846,062 to Phantom’s $853,122,847 — despite the fact that Phantom has been running a decade longer.

Now that’s a king of the Broadway jungle.

South Florida has experienced the power of Disney’s biggest stage hit twice, in 2002 and 2007 when The Lion King had long runs at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Now it’s Miami’s turn to play host to director Julie Taymor’s Tony-winning triumph, as The Lion King plays the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts right up until a few hours before this year’s Tony telecast. Broadway touring shows that stop at the Arsht normally run one week. The Lion King will be in Miami for four.

“ The Lion King is the gold standard for us,” says Thomas Schumacher, the Disney Theatrical Group president who was running the company’s feature animation division when the smash Lion King movie came out in 1994. “It has had more productions than anything else, has reached the largest audience and is now the biggest money earner. It’s not tied to fashion or fad; it’s enduring … It’s an allegory, a story about our families and us.”

That it is. As its thematic anthem, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Circle of Life, suggests, the musical encompasses birth, death and everything in between. As in the movie, the noble lion king Mufasa sacrifices his own life to save his headstrong young son Simba. Mufasa’s evil brother Scar commits fratricide and rules over a dying kingdom. Young love blossoms when Simba reencounters his boyhood friend Nala, then finds the brave purpose that would make his late father proud. The darker elements of The Lion King’s universally resonant story are the stuff of Greek tragedy, but the reliably moving musical glows with a hopeful ending and many moments of beauty, joy and the celebration of life.

Before the long nightmare that was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — Taymor, that show’s original director and coauthor, was let go after a prolonged period of creative differences — she proved herself a visionary artist who could go beyond Disney’s wildest dreams with the way she transformed The Lion King from an animated children’s movie into a brilliant, beautifully designed piece of theater.

“Its essence is something we can all relate to,” says Colombia-born Felipe Gamba, Disney Theatrical’s director of international production strategy. “But it’s also the way Julie Taymor transformed the movie into a theatrical experience that touches you no matter what your culture … When Rafiki calls out in those opening moments, we all hear her. It summons everyone, regardless of their origins.”

Taymor is still involved with The Lion King, but it falls to associate director John Stefaniuk to make sure the various productions of the show hew to her vision and standards.

Read more here: - The Miami Herald


"Miami's Syndee Winters in The Lion King at the Arsht"

Syndee Winters is psyched to be back and doing her thing in Miami. What is her thing exactly? It is using her gobs of talent. But more specifically, the vivacious 25-year-old actress, singer, and dancer lives to perform as Nala in the Broadway tour of the Tony Award-winning smash hit The Lion King, which opens this week and runs through June 10 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Winters promises a full-on theatergoing experience even though it's not highbrow entertainment. Then she wryly imitates the typical non-musical-theater-loving person."'I'm not a theater person,'" she says. "'I don't like how you randomly break into song. That's weird.'" Then she smiles. "But there's more to it than randomly breaking into song! There's the visual aspects. The cultural experience. The story. And I think The Lion King feeds into that, especially in a mainstream way."

Winters's passion for the arts was brought to life when she was an adolescent dreamer growing up in Miami. The youngest of three children, she moved here from New York at age 13 to live with her father and grandmother. It was as a student at Palmetto Senior High School that she fell in love with all things arts, culture, and entertainment. Driven and passionate, she joined anything at school that would get her on a stage performing in front of a crowd. "I was in every single extracurricular activity there was," she says. "Chorus, dance, musicals. I did stuff for Latin History Month, even though I'm really not even Hispanic. If anyone was like, 'Syndee you wanna do —,' I'd be like, 'Yes! I'll do it!'"

Winters went the usual route of the struggling actress with dreams of stardom and show business. Upon graduating from Palmetto in 2005, she joined several local dance studios and then went to every audition that came up. She landed a few gigs, such as being a background dancer for reggaeton artists Taino and Lisa M.

But the big stage of New York City beckoned in summer 2006. Her father, who worked as a concert photographer in Jamaica, had always exposed Winters to various musical genres, often taking little Syndee to watch rehearsals with artists such as Stephen and Damian Marley. That influence gave her the push she needed to head back to NYC. "I remember my dad being so supportive of me leaving for New York. He never gave me grief about wanting to pursue my dream as a performer. He was the first to expose me to the entertainment industry. I remember sitting backstage at these concerts and absorbing it all."

It soon became clear that Winters's infectious, charismatic personality was tailor-made for Broadway and beyond. After graduating from Five Towns College, a business and performing arts school on Long Island, she served a brief stint as a New York Knicks dancer, hitting up theater auditions between strutting the hardwood and singing the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden. From there, she grabbed any gig she could to keep her fledgling career moving. "When my Knicks dancing days were over," she recalls, "I kept my acting career going. Always moving, always active. I was a wedding singer for a while."
Winters landed some sweet gigs, such as working with singer Rihanna and Grammy-nominated American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. Then, in 2007, an audition came up for the part of Nala, Simba's feisty childhood gal pal who eventually becomes his queen in Disney's The Lion King. Winters went in nervous and left knowing she had absolutely nailed it. "I'm coming out of that audition thinking, My dreams are gonna come true! This is it! I have hit it! I'm in! " she remembers. "Well, that didn't happen because I didn't even get a single call back."

She was undeterred. Three years later, she took another shot at the part. "In 2010, I got another call to come back for Nala," she says, her voice rising in anticipation of the happy ending to this particular chapter in her life. "I performed for them and did a couple of songs and — here I am! I've been on the tour for two years now, and I can honestly say I don't ever get tired of it."

The Lion King is based on the now-classic 1994 Disney animated film of the same name. It's largely the story of a father, a son, and growing up. The stage musical, directed by Julie Taymor and scored by Elton John and Tim Rice, opened on Broadway in 1997. It was an immediate hit, praised for its multicultural experimentation, puppetry, and distinctive African/Asian flair.

Featuring a cast of more than 40 actors, elaborate costumes, and giant puppets that become giraffes, gazelles, and birds of the Savannah, the production was praised for its visual and musical spectacle. "You're going there expecting furry costumes and a jungle setting and that sort of thing," Winters explains. "And you'll get all that. But you will definitely also have a full, culturally enriched experience. You'll be completely entertained. It's not just for kids. The whole family will walk away fully entertained."

Between performances as Nala, Winters has kept her solo career on track, putting out R&B songs that can be purchased on iTunes, such as her latest single, "What U Say." The video for it can be seen on YouTube.
- Miami New Times


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