Syndee Winters, the multi-talented singer, dancer and actress, has had a passion for the arts since she was an adolescent dreamer growing up in Miami. The youngest of three children, the Palmetto High grad moved here from New York at age 13 to live with her father and grandmother. Now she returns to Miami as Nala in the Broadway tour of the Tony award-winning smash hit The Lion King, which opens tomorrow night and runs through June 10 at the Arsht Center.
We spoke to Syndee about growing up in Miami, The Lion King, her solo career, and her unbridled excitement for being featured in Miami New Times. She likes us, she really likes us!
Syndee Winters: I remember being a kid in Miami and, going to college and picking up the New Times and going "Ah man! I wanna be in this publication! But I don't know how, because I don't know what I'm doing! This newspaper is so rad! There's always stuff about musicians and artists and stuff that's going on! How do I get into this thing?"
Cultist: And now you're going to be featured in it!
So excited! I'm going to frame it!
Where did you study theatre?
Well, I attended Palmetto Senior and started dancing there, and when I graduated I joined several dance studios and did some auditions, and did a few music videos and did some background work for some reggeaton artists.
And from there you left Miami to New York?
Yeah. I figured, let me see what New York has to offer. I danced for the Knicks, then when my dancing days were over, I decided to continue my acting career and whanot and I was a wedding singer for a while. And then the audition for The Lion King came up in 2007 and I didn't even get a call back.
Here I am thinking my dreams are gonna come true! This is it! I have hit it! Well that didn't happen because I didn't get a call back. And then in 2010, I got another call to come back for Nala, and then performed for them and did a couple of songs and, here I am! I've been on the tour for two years. I can honestly say I don't ever get tired of it.
Have you always been into singing and theatre?
Oh I studied everything in high school. Chorus, dance, musicals. I was in every single extracurricular activity. 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!" Any time I got any opportunity to dance or perform I was like, I'm there.
And you pursued your dreams in New York not long after high school. What route did you take to get your career rolling?
Yeah. I was born in New York, and moved to Miami when 13. Getting back to New York, I was able to do auditions and network. When you go out on auditions you test the waters, see what fits, see where you belong, that kind of thing. There's no formula. It's just, when the time hits, you gotta be ready to do it. There's nothing like the experience of going to auditions and being a part of it.
How does the stage version of The Lion King differ from the animated movie?
It's very similar. You have your standard characters. You have your Simba, your Mufasa, your Scar. What differs is everything else. You're going there expecting furry costumes and a jungle setting and that sort of thing. But that's not at all the experience you'll have. You will definitely have a full, culturally enriched experience. There's so much African and Asian culture put into the show, lots of puppet work and you'll be completely entertained. It's not just for kids. The whole family will walk away fully entertained.
And this will be the first time you perform professionally in front of a major audience in Miami?
Yes! So excited! I can't even tell you!
And what do you hope your adoptive hometown audiences take away from this show?
I hope they walk away with a sense of theatrical culture and appreciation. Respect for theatre and respect for the arts. There weren't many musicals coming to Miami when I was growing up. Coming from New York, I understand that.
There's a small niche in Miami that has artists saying, "Oh I'll move to New York," because Miami doesn't have that level of appreciation for musical theatre, and I would love to see people who have never seen a Broadway show before experience it here for the first time. A lot of people are like, "I'm not a theatre person! I don't like how you randomly break into song. That's weird." But there's more to it than randomly breaking into song. There's the visual aspects. And I think Lion King feeds that, especially in a mainstream, artistic, avant-garde type of way.
Syndee's latest single What U Say is available on iTunes. Follow her on twitter @SyndeeWinters.
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Look for our extended feature on Syndee Winters and The Lion King in this week's issue.
The Lion King roars at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet Opera House (1300 Biscayne Blvd.) starring tomorrow nigh through June 10. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $36.50. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.