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New cast members seek them out for advice and ask Dlamini questions about Swahili words. “It’s fun,” she says. “When they come in new and excited, you’re like, `Wow. This is how it felt for us when we started the show.’”

Having a steady paycheck has given Brown and Dlamini the option of exploring other projects _ voice-overs, readings, writing their own work and mini-performances _ but nothing has lured them away permanently.

“The wonderful thing is that you have a home so you can feed yourself and continue to grow as an artist,” says Brown. “That energizes you and you bring it back into the show.”

Does it ever get old? Is hearing “Hakuna Matata” _ Swahili for “no worries” _ for the 5,000th time enough? Or those Elton John-Tim Rice songs?

Both women shake their heads.

“Whenever we have vocal rehearsal and we’re singing the music, 15 years later I’m still like, `Wow. What a beautiful score,’” Brown says. As for the rest of the show: “There are all these beautiful layers. It’s not just pretty. It doesn’t just sound good. There’s a deep motor to it.”

WORK GRIND

One of the first to arrive at the Minskoff Theatre on show days is Dlamini, who usually comes 90 minutes before the curtain rises. “I just like that moment when I’m there by myself,” she says.

Soon she is joined by Brown, another early arrival. She likes to warm up by taking yoga, Pilates or spinning classes before shows. Cross-training is important to avoid repetitive stress syndrome, a real threat since both women are also moving with puppets.

Before long, a stereo backstage will be cranked up and the rest of the cast and crew will filter in. “We talk and dance and sing and we go on already warm and happy and excited,” says Dlamini.

Snafus are rare, as one might expect for a Tony Award-winning show. But the women recall a few years back around Christmastime when an actress forgot to take off the Santa hat she had put on during intermission. So the audience got to see the song “One by One” performed by dancers in dashikis _ and one wearing a Santa hat.

“It’s never happened again,” says Dlamini, shivering at the thought.

The anniversary of the show has led both women to think about the future. Brown would like to teach one day.

“I think that this is probably my last dancing role,” she says. “I’ve been dancing for about 25 years, so every time I go out I’m kind of savoring it. I love this show, but after this I think I’m probably done.”

Dlamini thinks she, too, might be done performing onstage after this, but wants to keep making music. “I don’t think I can ever stop singing,” she says.

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