The Lion loves Hollywood and Vine.
The L.A. production of The Lion King will not set up house in the Shubert Theatre next year but will go to the Pantages Theatre instead. Barring last-minute snafus, the second U.S. production of the hit musical -- the first is now in its second year on Broadway -- will be seen at the venerable Pantages Theatre on Hollywood and Vine. The projected opening date is Oct.19, 2000. Tickets will not go on sale until April 29.
Most knowledgable local theatre folk had expected the musical would end up at the 2100-seat Shubert, home to such recent hit shows as Cats, Evita and Les Miserables. Instead, Disney's theatrical producers Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher have opted for Hollywood over Century City, and not only because the Pantages can seat 2700 people. In recent years, the once-seedy Hollywood and Vine area has undergone an upgrading. A new subway station was just opened and last year Disney refurbished the historic El Capitan movie theatre to good effect.
"Hollywood is very accessible for everyone," Schumacher said. "We like it here." Other contenders for L.A.'s Lion King included the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills and the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown L.A. The latter was eliminated because it runs a subscription season under the aegis of the Center Theatre Group, the former because it has an extremely shallow stage. Also, the Pantages has a configuration much like that of the New Amsterdam in New York, where the musical is ensconced. It has aisles that lead into the orchestra from the rear, allowing for the parade of characters that distinguishes the Julie Taymor-directed show.
Taymor, by the way, will direct the L.A. production. She has not been available until now, having been committed to other theatrical projects. Once she finishes directing the imminent London production, she will turn her energies to L.A. and the Pantages. The Pantages was built as a movie palace in 1930 and became a contender for big musicals in 1977, when the Nederlander organization took it over. Disney and the Nederlanders have always had a close working relationship. In New York, for example, the Broadway production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast will move from the Nederlander-owned Palace to the Nederlander-owned Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in order to make room for Disney's next musical, Aida, scheduled to open on March 23 after a Chicago tryout next month.
The Lion King is booked at the Pantages through June 30, 2001, but an extension is possible. "We'll see how business is," said Schneider.
The Lion King will be offered as an additional option for the next Broadway/LA series, due to be announced in a month or so, and subscribers may be able to buy tickets in advance of single-ticket buyers. Later Broadway/LA offerings will probably be seen at the Nederlanders' other L.A. venues, which include the Wilshire and the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood.