Since “The Lion King” stormed the world with its exquisite and endearing storytelling and animation in 1994, it has inspired many adaptations. One of these is a musical that is as extraordinary as the animated film. Translating a favorite movie to the stage took a lot of effort. This was the job undertaken by director Julie Taymor and her team. The hard work paid off as it transcended on the stage, making it apparent what theatre genuinely feels like. As if you are part of the gathering on the Pride Rock. The musical has moved many people from its premiere in 1997 and shows no signs of slowing down because it is so compelling.
Simply put, there is nothing like “The Lion King.” This fall, it will return to the Saenger Theatre of New Orleans. This is the time to witness such a masterpiece again or for the first time.
“Seen purely as a visual tapestry, there is simply nothing else like it. Suddenly, you’re 4 years old again, and you’ve been taken to the circus for the first time. You can only marvel at the exotic procession of animals before you: the giraffes and the elephants and the hippopotamuses and all those birds in balletic flight. Such is the transporting magic wrought by the opening 10 minutes of The Lion King, [director Julie] Taymor has introduced a whole new vocabulary of images to the Broadway blockbuster.”
– Ben Brantly, The New York Times
“The production melds multiple cultures and techniques that the whole experience is nothing short of an education. The pure creativity and theatricality of it shows the audience exactly what theater can do in the hands of a director with a crisp-clear vision. In place of sentimentality for the material, the show is well thought-out and visually cohesive from start to finish.”
– Nikki Francisco, theatrefansmanila.com
“Awe-inspiring! Broadway theater is alive again. [Julie] Taymor’s imaginative ideas seem limitless. It’s a gorgeous, gasp-inducing spectacle. Most important – against all odds – it has innocence. The show appeals to our primal, childlike excitement in the power of theater to make us see things afresh.”
– Richard Zoglin, Time Magazine
In an interview with The Guardian, Taymor discloses how she was told to direct “The Lion King” musical: ‘It was a surprise to get the call from Disney. Their world wasn’t my aesthetic, but The Lion King’s story aligned with the myths, folktales, and Shakespearean stories I had done. I’d never seen the film before and was totally taken with it. The sheer idea of staging a stampede was exciting. They gave me a lot of freedom. I was told: “The bigger the risk, the bigger the payoff.”‘
Deciding to rework some aspects of the original film, Taylor cast the wise Rafiki (a Mandrill) as a woman. She reasoned that usually, in South Africa, where the show took most of its inspiration, the shamans are women. “She would be first on stage, bringing the animals together,” she added.
On the other hand, the ingenious costume and stage designs were the part of the show she worked on extensively. The story behind the performers not being covered thoroughly and performers wearing masks as headpieces was because the team wanted to simultaneously showcase the human and animal aspects of the actors on stage. The workings of the costumes are also apparent. This is to include them in the theatre experience.
“The first thing our eyes are drawn to are the vibrant colours and transformational costumes worn by the cast. Bringing the vision of this safari to life on stage, the dancer’s movements truly reflect the characters in which they play.”
“The breathtakingly staged Broadway adaptation of Disney’s king of the cartoon jungle is an instant theater classic.”
–– Chris Willman, Entertainment Weekly
The costume and stage design are completed by the choreography of Garth Fagan. It is a joy to see animals/humans and grasses glide around the stage, making the environment lively.
To add to the amalgamation of creativity is its impeccable music. In addition to Elton John’s music, Tim Rice’s lyrics, Roger Allers’ and Irene Mecchi’s book, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer’s added music and lyrics completed the magnum opus. Its music is heavily influenced by South African choral, the Zulu chant (notable as a warrior chant in Africa, and English vocals for the opening song “The Circle of Life.”
Like the film, the story follows Simba and his journey to realizing his role as the king of the Pride Rock. The mistakes and lessons he learned throughout the 2-hour musical will guide him to overcome the challenges he faced. In doing so, he has to defeat his usurper uncle, Scar. This is to bring back the Pride’s former glory.
Meanwhile, “The Lion King” musical debuted at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 8, 1997. Before it came on Broadway, it was already a blockbuster hit. It officially opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway on November 13, 1997. It was relocated to the Minskoff Theatre (also a Broadway theatre) in 2006. It has been running at that theatre for 21 years and has performed more than 9,000 times. The show holds the record as the third longest-running Broadway musical.
The musical has received many awards, as it deserves. During the 1999 Tony Awards, it won “Best Musical,” “Best Direction of a Musical,” “Best Choreography,” “Best Scenic Design,” “Best Costume Design,” and “Best Lighting Design.” In the 1999 Laurence Olivier Awards, it won “Best Theatre Choreography” and “Best Costume Design.” The productions from different countries also bagged wins in their respective award-giving bodies.
Excerpt from Ben Walters Review of The Lion King Musical, Time Out
For a global blockbuster, ‘The Lion King’s absolute theatricality is astonishing. Techniques from all over the world – African masks, Japanese Kabuki costumes, Malaysian shadow puppetry – are smashed together in an explosion of spectacle. It’s perfect for a musical, allowing both distinct flavours and an eclectic carnival spirit.
The familiarity of the film is a root cause of the show’s commercial success. But, ironically, ‘The Lion King’ can’t afford such compromises. Its plot is thin enough to turn your brain to mulch and the score, which sits Elton John and Tim Rice’s pop anthems with Lebo M’s African-inspired additions, remains disjointed. Amongst the current cast, Andile Gumbi’s Simba is too limply wholesome, but George Asprey and Shaun Escoffery are aptly majestic as Scar and Mufasa.
Nonetheless, Taymor’s theatrical fireworks, backed up by Donald Holder’s oft-unsung, emotive lighting, are more than draw enough. ‘The Lion King is a show that demands to be seen.
With a cast of 40, prepare to be moved on its run at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans. It will begin on October 27 and up until November 13. The touring cast includes Spencer Plachy as Scar, Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa, Gugwana Dlamini as Rafiki, Tony Freeman as Timon, Jurgen Hooper as Zazu, John E. Brady as Pumbaa, Darian Sanders as Simba, Kyla Cyphers as Nala, Firest Vandyke as Banzai, Martina Sykes as Shenzi and many more. This is a show that you and the children will love. Come see it!
“A jaw-dropping magnificent spectacle. The show and the playhouse are enchanting. The unprecedented production is worth every penny. If this is Disney’s idea of a theme park, we are delighted to report that the theme is quality.”
– Linda Winer, Newsday
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