On Broadway, the focus of what to see often strays towards the new and notable. And too often, shows with staying power become targets for derision. The most obvious example, Cats, stayed running for 18 years before closing in 2000 despite a constant stream of mockery. Now, with Cats back on Broadway, and stalwarts like Phantom of the Opera and Chicago still going strong, it’s clear that the old reliables warrant more than a shrug. We went to The Lion King last weekend to see Disney’s hit musical, and quickly learned why this show has outlasted nearly all the others. Here’s why we still love The Lion King on Broadway.
The Lion King on Broadway
The beefed up characters.
The two-act stage adaptation delves deeper into its characters than the 88-minute children’s movie could. Director Julie Taymor recognized that there were no leading women characters in the film, and recast Rafiki as a female mandrill (played expertly by South African Tshidi Manye since 2000). Nala too, gets a stronger presence. And the audience learns more about the Scar’s back story, making him a more complicated villain than he was in the movie.
With increased character depth comes an increased number of songs, like Nala and Rafiki’s “Shadowland”The Oscar-winning music from Disney’s 1994 film didn’t change all that much when it landed on the Great White Way in 1998, which won Best Musical at the Tony’s that year. There are the favorites you know (“Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Circle of Life”) along with several new songs, some of which come from Hans Zimmer’s beautiful film score. Others, like the epic “He Lives in You,” were added for Broadway (and used in Lion King II: Simba’s Pride).
The creative production.
No other musical on Broadway is as beautiful to watch. Costumes, puppetry and creative staging transport audiences to the plains of East Africa—with leaping antelope, soaring birds and, unfortunately, stampeding wildebeest. Lionesses, played by women wearing wooden masks resting above their heads, show their tears by pulling rolls of fabric out of their masks’ eyes. During “The Circle of Life,” life-size giraffes and elephants roam the theater. It’s all mechanically flawless, and visually arresting.
Pro tip: Due to staging and costuming, the best views at The Lion King are on the aisle midway through the orchestra. You’ll want to be far enough back to appreciate the big picture of the puppets, rather than focus on the actors; and you’ll want to be close to the action during the inspiring parade scenes.