Tickets have gone on sale for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions' stage adaptation of its hit animated film, The Lion King, scheduled to roar at the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway this fall.
Previews begin in NY Oct. 10 for a Nov. 13 press opening. Tickets now on sale to Amex cardholders only at (212) 307-4555, and are scheduled to go on sale to the general public June 22.
The show will try out for eight weeks starting July 8 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis and opening July 23.
Casting for the show has just been completed, with two members officially announced: Geoff Hoyle, who will play (and manipulate) the bird, Zazu; and Tsidii Le Loka, a woman, who will play the witch-doctor, Raffiki (a male character in the Disney film).
According to director Julie Taymor (Juan Darien), Raffiki is one of the few characters who will not utilize a mask, though she'll have a lot of face paint and an elaborate gown. (At a press event, April 2, Le Loka was wearing a West African gown of bright blue with swirling gold curlicue designs.) As for characters with masks, Taymor emphasized that unlike her Juan Darien, on Broadway earlier this season, The Lion King will emphasize the humans onstage. "We have wonderful singers," said Taymor, "so it's important the masks don't cover their mouths." Plus, facial expressions are terribly important in the film and will remain so onstage. Therefore, the masks often rest on top of the performers' heads, or out in front of them. Several performers will also have a small, lightweight, carbon graphite control in their palms, by which they can control the masks movement, either up or down or forward in front of the forehead.
Actors will also be able to manipulate other elements of their animal costumes with their hands and feet, yet the audience will often see the manipulations. For example, Taymor demonstrated a model of a "gazelle wheelbarrow." One person manipulates a wheel, around which several gazelles gracefully roll forward. "We watch the animals leap up and down rapidly, while also watching the person turning the wheel moving slowly, serenely across the stage." Taymor termed this "a kind of corporate puppetry."
"Watching this kind of theatre becomes `a double event," said Taymor. "We go to be moved, to be entertained by the story, but also to enjoy how it's done."
Originally, Disney had no intention of turning its 1994 animated film into a stage musical; it was even a joke around the Disney offices, until Michael Eisner began asking about the concept. Tom Schumacher, of Disney Theatrical Productions, said it was "the worst idea he'd ever heard" but months later he was at work developing the project. For him, the idea was to find "the myth and core" of the story, rather than recreate the movie the way Beauty And The Beast does.
In developing the piece, Taymor wanted to mix "high-tech and low-tech," but also mix "cinematic techniques into a theatrical framework." For example, twenty dancers rise up out of the stage with large platters of grass on their heads, becoming a field. "That's a long shot. When we cut to the real actors coming out, the effect is of a close-up." The stampede will be dne using visible conveyor belts, similar to piano rolls.
These rolls, as well as "a turntable that screws up out of the stage into a cantilevered staircase," are among the visual elements Taymor and Hudson have chosen to represent the story's thematic use of a circle. Of course, the show will open with the "Circle Of Life" number.
The film, The Lion King, used the voices of an array of Broadway talent, including Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg. The stage version will have an onstage chorus (as herds and flocks), as well as six percussionists up in the New Amsterdam's boxes.
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 character. 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.
Lebo M told Playbill On-Line the more recent songs include "He Lives In You," "One By One," and "Shadowlands." A cabaret singer in Soweto, South Africa, Lebo M, now an expatriate, first worked with Hans Zimmer on the score to the Morgan Freeman film, Power Of One.
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 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 1100th performance at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.
For an account of the grand reopening of the New Amsterdam Theatre, see "Disney & NY Leaders Rechristen New Amsterdam Theatre" in Theatre News.