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The Lion King Broadway Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary


November 13th marks the 25th anniversary performance of The Lion King on Broadway. To celebrate its 25 years, Elton John and the cast of The Lion King broadway performed on November 10. Additionally, the Minskoff Theatre will hold an exclusive talkback with the cast and creatives responsible for the show on November 11.

In my opinion, The Lion King, which has been said to be a close parody of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was always destined to do well on a theatrical stage. The 1994 Disney movie of the same name made $968.5 million at the box office, and is number nine in the top lifetime grosses for films. It’s a classic and did well with a variety of audiences, which made the translation to a Broadway stage not only inevitable but also brilliant.

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25 Years of The Lion King on Broadway

lion king broadway- Circle of Life Cheetah and Giraffes
Circle of Life Cheetah and Giraffes/ CREDIT: Joan Marcus

The musical made its Broadway debut on October 15, 1997, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Its official opening was November 13, 1997. While it moved to the Minskoff Theatre in June of 2006, it has made Broadway history. It’s the third longest-running show on Broadway, and like the movie, is a massive success. It’s the highest grossing Broadway production of all time and has earned more than one billion. According to calculations, almost one hundred million people worldwide have seen it. It’s on its third tour across the United States and its earned six Tonys amongst other awards, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical (which made director Julie Taymor the first woman to win).

Plus, it has made its way across the world including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom (two tours), the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, South Africa, Taiwan, China, and Australia. It had an international tour as well. The musical is beloved and has seen immense success across the world. Each production is slightly different in regards to direction and set pieces. 

One of the highest praises the musical gets is in regards to the costumes and puppetry. If, by chance, you’re located around Georgia, the Center For Puppetry Arts does include a small segment on Broadway’s The Lion King.

While it obviously has ties to the Disney movie, there are some significant differences. Rafiki is played by a woman because Julie Taymor wanted to include a female lead. There are additional scenes to build on characterization and add suspense. There are also additional songs that aren’t the movie. In 2010, 9 minutes of the Broadway show were cut, including one of the musical numbers, “The Morning Report.” 

the lion king broadway- rafiki
Tshidi Manye as Rafiki/ CREDIT: Joan Marcus

Why The Lion King Broadway is a significant story

The Lion King, in a lot of ways, is Simba’s coming of age story. He’s a lion cub destined to rule his pride and that comes with a lot of pressure and expectation for him. He’s mischievous, breaks the rules, and engages in kid-like fun that, while is normal for kids, isn’t becoming of a prince. Being a child, he is easily manipulated by his uncle to run away and give up the throne. Simba, throughout the story, is figuring out who he is in the greater context of the world, which is really relatable for just about any audience. He also has a lot moments of insecurity. Is he enough? Has he caused harm to the people he loves? Would he be a good king? He has to live up to the legacy of his father, which isn’t an easy feat.

the lion king- simba & nala
Brandon A. McCall as Simba and Pearl Khwezi as Nala/ CREDIT: Matthew Murphy

Some of The Lion King Broadway’s notable performers

The show has several notable actors in it over time, with some having their debut in the show. 

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Samuel E. Right debuted Mufasa. He’s been in a variety of stage productions, television shows, and movies, but you might recognize him most as the voice of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid.

Heather Headley debuted Nala. She won Best Actress in a Musical for the lead role in Aida and won a Grammy for her R&B album.

Max Casella debuted Timon. He’s known for his roles in The Sopranos and Doogie Howser, M.D.

Caleb McLaughlin played Young Simba as his debut to fame, but now you’d recognize him in Stranger Things.

Shahadi Wright Joseph played Young Nala as her debut to fame, but now you’d recognize her in Us

Christopher Jackson was an ensemble member of the cast, but you’d mostly likely know him as the debut Benny from In the Heights or the debut George Washington from Hamilton.

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Wallace Smith was an ensemble member turned Simba on tour (and then Broadway). He’s currently on Broadway as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in Hamilton.

Critics and fans’ thoughts… 

Shows like this stand for as long as they do in part because of their dedicated fanbase. The impact of a show on its audience continues to bring the same people back and allows that audience to want to share it with their friends. After looking at the opinions of critics and audiences, I can tell that this show makes a lasting impact. There were so many stories about “the first time” someone saw The Lion King and their most recent time. It’s nostalgic, but in the best of ways. It isn’t playing at nostalgia; instead, it’s continuously wowing audiences, even today.

Brittani Samuel of Playbill writes: 

“With every trip to the Minskoff Theatre, audiences are immersed in the colorful costumes, playful shadow puppetry, leaping choreography, and, of course, animal-inspired masks that create a thoroughly unique landscape. Actors herd together to form lion prides and bird flocks, while giraffes and elephants controlled by puppeteers stroll through the aisles and an animatronic lion cub representing Simba is hoisted over Pride Rock by Rafiki.”

Peter Marks of The Washington Post writes:

“I thought about the astonishing durability of the show, how many others in attendance like them were not even born when Lizzie and I visited a quarter-century ago — even members of the cast. The masks and puppets by Taymor and Michael Curry remain the most beguilingly imaginative in musical-theater history.”

This musical is life changing.

It’s peak Broadway to some.

It’s nostalgic.

It’ll leave you breathless.

Have you seen The Lion King? If so, what was your experience like? And if not, perhaps consider grabbing your ticket!


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