The audience was filled with many of the show's original cast members and creative team, who collectively took home six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 1998. Director Julie Taymor, who helmed the production to extraordinary acclaim (and two Tony Awards — for Direction and Costume Design), was among the attendees catching up with old friends before the show and during intermission. (For the record, the 1997 show officially opened on Nov. 13, with this 15th anniversary celebration taking place five days later.)
I hadn't been back to see The Lion King in well over ten years. With the constant barrage of new shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, regionally and on tour, it's hard for me to get back to any of the long-runners on Broadway. I was happy to revisit this most extraordinary and visionary production; the show remains a wonder — still fresh after 15 years.
The opening number continues to rival of any of the must-see attractions in New York City. It's absolutely breathtaking — and the audience seemed to agree on Sunday, with a blaring swell of hollers and applause that filled the darkness after it ended.
Following the curtain call, producers Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider took to the stage to recognize the members of The Lion King family members in the audience, with special emphasis on Taymor, before turning the stage over to a "special, surprise performance" that included cast members who have starred in productions around the globe. Throughout the finale, which included an encore of "Circle of Life" and "One by One," we saw projections of photos and videos of the The Lion King's own circle of life — from inside Taymor's studio and rehearsal process to the Tony Awards stage to the many cities The Lion King has played around the globe, including Tokyo, Hamburg, London and Madrid and beyond. The proof of the extraordinary nature of the show is not just on the stage, it's in the box office stats. According to Disney Theatrical Productions, The Lion King boasts a cumulative gross of over $5 billion, a number that rivals Hollywood's biggest blockbusters: "more than the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy combined, more than the six 'Star Wars' films combined, and more than 'Avatar' and 'Titanic.'"
(Blake Ross is editor of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillBlake.)
Watch interviews with Taymor and Schumacher and scenes from the Nov. 18 anniversary presentation of The Lion King: