Having made its Broadway debut in July 1997, The Lion King is one of New York’s veteran musicals. It’s actually the third longest-running show in The Big Apple. It’s a record breaker, too. More than $1 billion dollars has rung through its tills over the decades, making it the highest grossing Broadway musical of all time.
So what makes it so special? Here are a few of the reasons it stands out from the crowd. Consider them nudges to buy tickets for the production when you’re next in NYC.
For many, the tale of The Lion King musical, Broadway needs no introductions. The musical is based on the 1994 animated film of the same name, made by Disney. True to the story of the film, the stage show features a lion cub called Simba as the lead character. Simba is born to Mufasa, king of the Pride Lands in the Serengeti Plains. Huge celebrations are held to welcome Simba into the world. But there is one animal who will not rejoice. Mufasa’s brother Scar is devastated at the birth because it ruins his future chances of becoming king.
As Simba grows up Scar plots ways of getting rid of the lion cub. One day, he tells Simba about an elephant’s graveyard, which is located in a dangerous area beyond the Pride Lands. Scar’s detailed description piques Simba’s curiosity and the cub heads there to explore.
The graveyard turns out to be fraught with danger and filled with hyenas who want to eat Simba. Mufasa rescues his son just in time.
In the moments after the rescue, Scar begins to plot with the hyenas. He tells them they’ll never go hungry again if they help him kill both Mufasa and Simba. Scar takes Simba to a valley where the hyenas scare a herd of wildebeest into a rampage.
Simba is in the direct path of the stampede. Once again, Mufasa tries to rescue his son, but fails, at the cost of his life. Alone, Simba gets lost and ends up in the jungle.
Back in the Pride Lands, all the animals are made to believe that their leader and his son are dead. Scar assumes the role of king. There is discontent, the kingdom suffers. Still lost, Simba meets new friends in the jungle, in the form of Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog. Time passes and Simba becomes a grown lion.
One day, a lioness ventures into the jungle and attempts to attack Pumbaa. Simba defends his friend only to recognise the lioness as Nala, the best friend he had as a cub. Love blossoms and Simba has to decide whether to stay in the jungle or return to the Pride Lands to face Scar and reclaim his role as the rightful king.
Elton John wrote multiple songs for The Lion King musical. The A-lister penned Circle of Life, I Just Can’t Wait to be King, Chow Down, Be Prepared, Hakuna Matata, The Madness of King Scar and Can You Feel The Love Tonight with the help of Tim Rice.
Elton John has a list of songwriting credentials as long as his arm. Not only is the singer part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he’s also been nominated for, or won almost 40 Grammy Awards. Can You Feel the Love Tonight earned himself and Tim Rice an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
Tim Rice has a trophy cabinet of his own. The English writer has to polish Oscars, Golden Globes, Tonys and Grammys on a regular basis. He also has a knighthood under his belt. He was knighted for services to music in 1994.
The creatives behind The Lion King musical went to serious lengths to bring the animals in the production to life. They didn’t settle with representing the animals using catsuits, face paints and masks. Instead, they built puppets, put actors on stilts, and made mechanical costumes in order to make them look more lifelike. Rod, shadow and full-sized puppets are also used in the production.
It’s thought that it took artists a combined total of 1,547 days to sculpt all the puppets, headdresses and costumes needed for the show.
The giraffe costumes are the tallest in the musical. They’re a lighting rig-skimming 18 foot tall and actors have to scale six-foot tall ladders in order to climb into them. The widest animal, meanwhile, is a nine-foot long elephant.
The Lion King is now playing at Minskoff Theatre 200 West 45th Street.
For tips on how to get into the shows for less, check out our guide on getting cheap Broadway tickets