Produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures, The Lion King is a 1994 American musical movie that captured the hearts of children and adults alike. The animation was an instant success and was soon adapted into a Broadway hit musical in 1997, taking the story to new heights and changing the landscape of musical theater as we know it.
The movie was co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, produced by Don Hahn, written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. Meanwhile, its original songs were penned by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, with a score composed by Hans Zimmer.
The Lion King follows the adventures of Simba, a young lion cub (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas), who learns to overcome change and accept his destiny as the king of the Pride Lands. In this timeless story, Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons), devises a plan to usurp Mufasa’s throne by leading father and son into a deadly stampede of wildebeests. However, Simba manages to escape, and only Mufasa is killed. Simba later returns as an adult (voiced by Matthew Broderick) to reclaim his homeland from his wicked uncle with the help of his loyal friends Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella).
With these unforgettable characters, impressive ensemble voice cast and iconic soundtrack, the movie quickly became known as a cult classic. Having been ranked as the highest-grossing animated film of all time with an initial gross of $763.5 million, it was clear that The Lion King was destined for greatness beyond the screen.
The transition to the stage
At first, Disney’s decision to adapt The Lion King into a Broadway production was met with skepticism and curiosity. Could a story set in the African savanna with talking animals truly work on the stage? The answer was a resounding yes. The creative team behind the musical, including the exceptional work of Tony Award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan, used a unique blend of puppetry, dance, and music to bring the film to life on stage, unlike anything theatergoers had seen before.
Costume, puppet and mask design
The Broadway producer and director Julie Taymor designed the original costumes and co-designed the masks and puppets alongside designer Michael Curry. The characters were brought to life by actors wearing award-winning costumes and using puppetry techniques to convey the movements and emotions of animals. The most iconic of these puppets is the life-sized, incredibly detailed lion mask worn by actors playing Simba (Jason Raize) and Nala (Heather Headley). The production was such a spectacle that it became Broadway’s highest-grossing show of all time. In fact, it won six Tony Awards in 1998, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Costume Design, making Julie Taymor the first woman in theater history to receive the honor.
Its unforgettable score composed by the Tony Award-winning songwriting team of Elton John and Tim Rice was adapted for the stage. They created new songs that integrated with the classics, giving voice to the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings. Hits like “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” were reimagined for the stage, while a live orchestra and powerful vocals brought these songs to life.
A lasting legacy
Pride Rock continues to come to life in Disney’s long-running hit as THE SHOW GOES ON at the Minskoff Theatre. Boasting the same amazing creative team that led the original production including the brilliant Julie Taymor, Michael Curry, Elton John and Tim Rice, it’s obvious that The Lion King is yet to disappoint!! The cast includes Brandon A. McCall as Simba, L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa, Pearl Khwezi as Nala, Tshidi Manye as Rafiki, Stephen Carlile as Scar, Ben Jeffrey as Pumbaa, and Fred Berman as Timon.
And as for the historic Minskoff Theatre, no expense has been spared to make sure The Lion King is the spectacle it deserves! In fact, over 200 craftsmen and artisans worked nearly six months to refurbish the venue to welcome the production. Expect a dramatic terrazzo walkway and hand-painted, gold-leaf sculpted tableaus.