There are few Broadway shows that have left an impact on as many lives as The Lion King. The classic tale of a young son striving to live up to the mighty legacy of his father has had a hold on our hearts and minds for more than two decades. With the story set in the majestic, rolling Pride Lands of East Africa, the theatrical adaptation is currently performed in nine cities—and eight languages!—around the world. Certainly the New York production, which first opened in 1997, is Disney’s longest-running musical for a reason. In fact, it’s their longest-running musical for many reasons! Here are eight to get you started:
1. It takes family-friendly theatre to new heights.
While it may seem easy to write The Lion King off as a story for kids, in reality, the show is packed with valuable lessons for audiences of all ages. The journey Simba goes on to take his rightful place as King actually begins with a journey of self-discovery. Everyone can relate to not feeling brave or worthy enough for a position, a job, or a relationship. Oddly enough, this musical about lions highlights some of the most human insecurities.
2. It is a spectacle like no other.
With every trip to the Minskoff Theatre, audiences are immersed in the colorful costumes, playful shadow puppetry, leaping choreography, and, of course, animal-inspired masks that create a thoroughly unique landscape. Actors herd together to form lion prides and bird flocks, while giraffes and elephants controlled by puppeteers stroll through the aisles and an animatronic lion cub representing Simba is hoisted over Pride Rock by Rafiki.
3. It made history because of the woman who directed it.
In 1998, Julie Taymor became the first woman to win the Best Director Tony Award. The production took home five additional awards, including Best Musical, and another for Taymor, for her costume design. Her work directing and designing The Lion King (she also is credited as co-mask and co-puppet designer) cemented her unique visual style in history and ultimately led to an induction into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2015. A year later in 2016, Julie Taymor created a theatre fellowship in her name that provides opportunities for emerging artists to travel and push the boundaries of contemporary theatre direction.
4. You already know the music. Now, hear it live!
From the iconic acapella opening of “The Circle of Life” to the final orchestral strum of its reprise, The Lion King creates a vibrant soundscape for audiences to get lost in. Elton John and Tim Rice composed much of the music and lyrics for the show, crafting songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “Hakuna Matata” that live on in our collective memory, along with new songs from both John and Rice and South African composer Lebo M.
5. There’s something new to discover each time you go.
More than 100 million people around the world have already seen a production of The Lion King. There’s a good chance you’re one of them—but that does not mean you have seen it all. The magic of the show, whether it’s your first viewing or your fortieth, is that there is always something new to behold. The opening number alone, "Circle of Life," is an explosion of moving parts: galloping animals, circling birds, swelling chorus, and thundering orchestra. It’s impossible to take in the extravagance of Taymor’s production in just one go.
6. Young Nala and Simba often grow up to be movie stars.
Many of the young actors working today like Shahadi Wright Joseph from Jordan Peele’s Us or Caleb McLaughlin from Stranger Things have something in common—they got their start in The Lion King! Rambunctious young Simba and wise, young Nala are essential to the early moments of the show. They provide comic relief, yes, but also plant the seeds for the pair's relationship, first as best friends and then as leaders of Pride Rock. Simba needs Nala, Nala needs Simba; and portraying the complexities of this relationship is a mighty task. Don’t miss the current junior performers Donovan Louis Bazemore, Mariama Diop, Evie Winter Lee, and Jayden Theophile in action before their next big break!
7. It’s a tried and true story.
While The Lion King is an iconic story all on its own, the creators were actually inspired by Hamlet. Shakespeare’s 400-year old play laid the foundation for Simba, Mufasa, and Scar’s complicated relationship to power and to one another. All the more reason why both of the young kings (Simba and Hamlet) continue to inspire readers and audiences all these years later.