When Kimberly Marable and I first met, we wandered around the Meatpacking District, taking photos and talking about her Broadway debut. She said, “I wasn’t raised with an idea that because I’m darker skinned, I’m less than. My parents were very much proponents of ‘you are beautiful, you are a princess, you can do anything you want as a woman, as a black woman, as a New Yorker, as a smart person, as a humanitarian, as a loving being and as a spiritual being,’ all of the things we are as people.”
She’s made it part of her mission to embolden others with those same feelings. As a leader of Broadway Serves, as an advocate for racial equality, and as a cast member of one of the biggest shows ever to hit Broadway, she spends her life trying to inspire others and to inspire change.
It’s been seven years since we first met and talked about your experience with Sister Act.
I’ve grown up.
I was in a newish relationship, I was just back from living out of a suitcase and I was re-adjusting to being a New Yorker. I was re-adjusting to the audition scene and being a performer in 8 shows a week. I was also adjusting to being the hometown girl and having kids from middle school and theatre teachers from high school come see me perform. But how I’ve really grown is in terms of resilience. Not that I’ve had traumatizing experiences but I think I see the business now with open eyes as opposed to rose-colored glasses. Not that the dreams aren’t there anymore, but I have a more sensible way of looking at things; of the thing things that aren’t in my control and the things that are.
Being in The Lion King versus being in Sister Act has been a completely different experience. With The Lion King, I’ve been surrounded by mothers and parents, married couples, home owners, and parents of college students who are paying off a mortgage. It’s been a joyful realization that I can have all the things that I do want while also figuring out what I’m willing to sacrifice to do that.
Did you love The Lion King when you were young?
Oh yeah. We listened to the soundtrack on road trips. We loved the movie. It was the first time, because the animals were in Africa, that there was a pseudo-black royal family in the Disney cannon. That was very important in our house.
Do you still get the joy after performing in the show for five years?
I get the most joy when I get to go on as Nala. That is literally a dream come true. There’s the moment in “Shadowland” when she has to break free from the pack and suddenly she’s standing on her own two feet as a young woman who is about to fulfill her destiny. That’s a really beautiful moment. I love that song because it’s me; I have my whole life ahead of me.
How do you retain ‘you’ in a business like yours where so many people behind the table are constantly telling you who they think you are?
I want to think, “Well there’s no other me. There are no other Kimberly-type people out there,” but the reality is that while there’s not another Kimberly Marable, there are certainly other women who can do what I do. What is it about me that’s special? What will keep me working in the jobs I’m supposed to have? Am I really trusting that what I’m supposed to have won’t pass me by? Am I doing all the things I’m supposed to be doing to get what I’m supposed to have?
How do you sustain the nonstop nature of your career while maintaining your joy?
You need to know your worth. Just before I booked The Lion King, I was going to a million open calls—things I was right for, things I was sort of right for, regional theaters all over the place and Broadway stuff—and I realized, I am going to go crazy if I’m not selective. Now, I also had savings so I could afford to be somewhat selective and that was helpful, but the grind can be all consuming if you let it. If all you live and breathe is having to go to this audition and that class and another audition, you will go crazy. You have to be around people who feed your soul. That makes me happy. I had to remember I’m a person first, an artist second, and really emphasize self-worth and self-care.
So that begs the question, what do you do for self-care?
I try to eat and sleep. [laughs] I try to also do fitness stuff. I just started doing kung fu, which on the one hand is really physically challenging but on the other hand, I’m learning a lot about myself and how to be the best version of myself. How to not be a doormat but still be kind. To really see the big picture of things; to see things for what they are and not what I hope they are. It’s been really cool. It’s still new so I’m trying to figure it out but it’s teaching me to be tougher without being mean.
Thinking back to when you were a kid aspiring to be a performer, are you, today, where you thought you’d be?
I do think I’m where I said I thought I’d be. Since I was able to talk, I wanted to be an actor/singer/dancer. As I got older, I said I wanted to be a successful working actor. I’m doing that and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I still want more and I think that’s okay. I’m starting to get in touch with my dreams again—the things I really want out of life—with a new lens of there not being a deadline. In our twenties we spend the time thinking that by a certain age, we need to be at a certain point. Well the deadlines have all passed and I’m still here so there’s nothing but possibilities. That’s scary and wonderful all at the same time.
Not to mention you’re in The Lion King!
I mean, come on! At the beginning of act two, we sing “One By One.” It’s a song in Zulu so because it’s not English, we have to work extra hard to remember what we are singing about. This is obviously a loose translation, but we are talking about “this land and our history was built from our ancestors. They poured their blood and their sweat and their tears into it and I am proud of it. I am who I am because of them and I know who I am.” The fact that I get to sing that every show is pretty awesome.
Interview by Ryan Brinson
Photography by Christopher Boudewyns