Dates are firm for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions' stage adaptation of their hit animated film, The Lion King, to roar at the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. Previews begin in NY Oct. 10 for a Nov. 13 press opening (these dates are a week earlier than the tentative dates reported previously).
The show will try out for eight weeks starting July 8 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, opening July 23. The first day of ticket sales, April 28, netted $1,019,265.50, a Twin Cities record. Group sales have also been strong. Said Mike Brand, executive director of Jujamcyn Productions, "We've presented Phantom, Joseph and Show Boat, [but] The Lion King has generated our largest group sales advance ever."
Appearing in the show will be Tsidii Le Loka as Rafiki and production co-composer Lebo M. [sic] as the choir leader. Theatrical Index listed other performers in the show, which the Boneau/Bryan-Brown publicity office was not ready to confirm as of May 19. These names include Max Casella (Timon), Tracy Nicole Chapman (Shenzi), Heather Headley (Nala), Jason Raize (adult Simba), Tom Robbins (Pumbaa), John Vickery (Scar) and Samuel E. Wright (Mufasa).
Boneau/Bryan-Brown expects a full, official cast announcement later this week.
The film used the voices of an array of Broadway talent, including Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg. Asked how director/designer Julie Taymor will portray the all-animal cast, spokesman Chris Boneau, who has seen prototype designs for the show, said "It's definitely not going to be Cats-like. Julie Taymor gets the actor playing the charcter. If you've seen her work [including Juan Darienon Broadway in December 1996] you know she does a lot of work with puppets and masks -- it's definitely not an actor in a suit. For one thing, you can't do giraffes and gazelles like that -- too big. She wants to celebrate the actor inside the costume. She wants to find the human emotion inside the animal."
Helping Taymor get these stage effects will be set designer Richard Hudson (La Bete) and lighting designer Donald Holder.
Taymor was named recipient of a 1991 MacArthur Foundation Grant, (nicknamed the "Genius" grant) also won by Richard Foreman, Anna Deavere Smith and Bill Irwin. She was recently signed to direct a live-action film of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus for First Look Pictures, but those duties will not conflict with Lion King.
Composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice will write additonal new material for the stage show, which already includes the Oscar-winning song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," "The Circle of Life," and the popular "Hakuna Matata." John's pop-songwriting career includes such tunes as "Rocket Man," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and "Honky Cat." Rice is best known for Chess and his musical collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
John and Rice will write additional songs for the show, whose score also will include songs from the "Rhythm of the Pride Lands" album, which was inspired by the film. The score will include songs by Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer, Lebo M, Mark Mancina and Jay Rifkin.
The screenplay will be adapted to the stage by librettists Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Mecchi co-wrote the screenplay and Allers directed the animated film. The announcement was made Nov. 6, the same day Taymor's Juan Darien began Broadway previews.
The story very roughly parallels Shakespeare's Hamlet, with a wedge of his Henry IV inserted for good measure. Simba, prince of lions, lives a carefree life as heir-apparent of the pridelands -- until the day his scheming uncle Scar kills Simba's father, takes the queen as his wife and arranges for some bumbling hyenas to kill young Simba.
But Simba manages to slip away into the blazing desert. He's rescued by Timon and Pumbaa, a fun-loving meerkat and warthog, who convert Simba to their philosophy of "Hakuna Matata" or "No Worries." But Simba soon grows into an adult lion, and the power of fate, love and a little magic persuade him to abandon his hedonistic ways and return to fight Scar for his birthright.
The Lion King will be the second show (and the second Tim Rice musical with the word "king" in the title) in the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre, after the Alan Menken/Tim Rice oratorio, King David, which opens in May. Once home to the Ziegfeld Follies, the theatre has been restored by Disney, and will serve as flagship for its planned theatrical productions. The first Disney theatre project was Beauty and the Beast, which recently played its 1000th performance at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.
For an in-depth look at the Lion King, please see the story, "Disney Gives A Sneak Preview Of B'way Lion King.