Ava Brennan is remembering the first time she played Nala, the feisty lioness, in The Lion King – and it’s an emotional memory.
“It was in Hamburg,” she explains. “Everybody stood in a circle – it was one of the things they did when there was a cast change.
“Rafiki would be in the middle, we’d all stand around her, holding hands and they’d sing Circle of Life.
“And I cried. Because it was overwhelming and amazing.”
Four years on, the attachment to Disney’s tale of the boy cub Simba who grows up (eventually – after many trials, tribulations and adventures) to overcome evil and be the mighty ruler of the plains, remains just as strong for the Bootle-born actress.
She’s appeared as Nala, the childhood friend and confidante of Simba who grows into a courageous adult, in both Germany and in the West End.
And now she’s on the UK tour of the smash hit musical – seen by more than 65 million people worldwide – which makes its inaugural visit to Liverpool this week.
“I’m so excited about Liverpool!” she enthuses ahead of another big opening night. “I really can’t wait.
“Some of my family members haven’t seen me on stage at all, and they’ll be coming to the show at the Empire.”
The Brennan family contingent will include her uncle.
“He helped to build The Lion King when it was first in the West End because he’s a lighting technician,” his niece explains.
“So he thought it was really funny that I’m in the show now.”
Growing up in Liverpool, the former Belvedere girls’ school pupil admits she “never thought about doing anything else” than performing as a career.
She trained at the Loretta Legge Theatre School in Maghull, where she learned ballet, modern dance and tap, and later joined the National Youth Music Theatre, appearing on stage in London aged 15 in Oklahoma! – as well as performing one of its numbers live on Blue Peter.
Her first big break came when she auditioned for Aida, another show by Elton John and Tim Rice (the team behind The Lion King’s biggest numbers), touring Germany.
“I just thought: why not?” she says of making the leap. “I was 18, and what an opportunity it was. So I got there and then luckily for me I got job after job and ended up staying for six years.”
Other shows included Hairspray and The Count of Monte Cristo. Then she got the role of Nala in Hamburg, and has never looked back.
She wouldn’t, she says, be tempted by another part in the show, however, because the casting is done very carefully to match the actors to their characters.
“I’d say I’m quite a strong woman,” she says of similarities between herself and Nala. “And I do have quite a vulnerable and sensitive side too, which I think Nala also has.”
Another thing they share, the actress reveals, is responsibilities.
Ava describes The Lion King team as being like a big family, particularly on tour, and within that she has her own family too – a real ‘circle of life’.
“I have a son who is two,” she says. “And my husband is also in the show. We help each other out, and our nanny is a good friend and is travelling with us as well.”
The Lion King is at the Liverpool Empire from May 15 to July 5. Call 0844 847 2525 or visit www.liverpoolempire.org.uk.