The Lion King, the Disney megamusical known for its singular directorial and design vision, begins previews for its Toronto debut March 30 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
Rehearsals began Feb. 7, with a cast of 48, including 40 Canadians. There are also two U.S. performers and six from South Africa helping tell on the stage -- with Asian-influenced puppetry, masks and movement -- what was first seen in the 1994 Disney animated feature of the same name.
Following the March 30-April 24 preview period, official opening is April 25. Presenters Ed and David Mirvish, who program shows into the Princess of Wales, the Royal Alexandra Theatre and other venues, are selling tickets through Dec. 24, 2000, with an extension expected.
Ticket availability in the coming months is scattered, according to a spokesperson, with weekends being particularly difficult, but those who have a flexible schedule will be able to get into the musical, which has earned an "must-see" status around the world. The show is expected to sit down at the Princess of Wales for 22 months.
* The original 1997-98 Broadway creative team reunites to recreate the Tony Award-winning staging: Director-designer Julie Taymor, choreographer Garth Fagan, scenic designer Richard Hudson, lighting designer Donald Holder, costumes by Taymor and puppets and masks by Taymor and Michael Curry.
Taymor is also restaging The Green Bird, her grown up commedia adaptation, for Broadway this spring.
The Lion King beat Ragtime for the Best Musical Tony Award in 1998. In London, on Feb. 18, 2000, a tiny musical called Honk!, based on "The Ugly Duckling," beat the mighty Lion King for Best Musical, in the Olivier Awards.
The score to The Lion King is drawn from the Disney film, with new songs by the movie's songwriters, Elton John and Tim Rice, and additional numbers by Lebo M, Julie Taymor, Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer. The libretto is by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.
In Toronto, Stephen Allerick, 24, will play Simba, the lion cub who comes of age and struggles to take his late father's throne at the top of the food chain. The lead role is the Torontonian's professional stage debut. While pursuing an acting career, he held jobs including ushering and stage door security at the Ford Centre in North York, former home to Ragtime and Show Boat.
The cast includes Eugene Clark as Mufasa, Stratford Festival vet Richard McMillan as Scar, Saskia Garel (Toronto's Mimi in Rent) as Nala, South African Phinda Mtya as Rafiki, Second City Toronto actor Jonathan Wilson as Timon, Second City's Mark Terene (Cogsworth in the Canadian Beauty and the Beast) as Pumbaa, Jeffrey Kuhn (of Ragtime and Canada's The Who's Tommy) as Zazu, Topaz Hasfal (Show Boat) as Simba's mother, Sarabi, and, playing hyenas Ed, Banzai and Senzi, are Winnepeg actor Bill Perry, Jason Lee Jackson and Buffalo native Carmen R. Floyd, respectively.
Tickets are $20-$115 (Cdn.).
The Princess of Wales Theatre is at 300 King Street West in Toronto. Call (416) 872-1212 or for tickets.
The Toronto tourism industry bills the city as the world's third busiest theatregoing town in the English speaking world, and since the early 1980s the city has been a major roost for megamusicals that draw from as far away as Chicago.
With the presence of the Mirvishes, the now-defunct Livent and other presenters, the city has seen major Canadian-premiere hit stagings of Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Tommy, Beauty and the Beast, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Show Boat, Ragtime and more.
The Mirvishes next big show? The ABBA London hit, Mamma Mia! at the Royal Alex.
-- By Kenneth Jones