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Broadway’s ‘The Lion King’ Turns Twenty

Posted By: Nneka Opene | Filed under: Dancing Around the World, General | Nov 14, 2017
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With the plethora of new and established Broadway shows to choose from, it is a true testament to its magic and staying power that ‘The Lion King” is still going strong after 20 years on Broadway, and ushering in the next generation as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

 

Following the success of the animated Disney film released in 1994, a stage version was created and made it’s debut in 1997 on a small slice of Heaven called Broadway. Broadway’s ‘The Lion King” was met with instant critical acclaim, not just for its beloved rendition based on the timeless story that the world has come to know and love, but also for its inventive, imaginative costumes, including life-like animal puppets and props, and of course, its dynamic choreography. As Disney’s first truly original story not based off of existing source material, Disney’s “The Lion King” holds the distinction of being a trailblazer both in its original concept and artistic execution.

 

Hailed for its concept as well as its choreography, acclaimed choreographer Garth Fagan, drew from his experience as a young boy growing up in Jamaica, where his colorful imagination took him away from his small island in mind and spirit to far off lands long before he had actually physically left or gone anywhere.

 

Having traveled to Africa and been on safari nearly a dozen times, Fagan largely based his choreography for the stage characters on his observation of animal movement throughout his visits to Africa. This lended to the almost seamless transformation of human dancers into realistic, true to life-like portrayals of animals roaming across the African savannah with power and grace. In an interview with NPR.org, Fagan stressed that he had to keep in mind that while his dancers should look like giraffes, lions and other animals, that he had to remember that injury prone human bodies lay within as he conceptualized their movements.
Fagan’s choreography is a mix of contemporary and jazz styles, layered with African flavors and essence. The contras and sheer physicality of movement embodies both the struggle for survival on the great African plains, alongside the majestic powers of the main characters. As easy as the dancers make it look, they have the added challenge of having to perform intricate, physically demanding movements all while wearing elaborate, sometimes cumbersome costumes; which aren’t your average animal themed onesies, rather full piece constructions covered in detailed embellishments, and adorned with grandiose headpieces and make-up. The choreography has been so impactful that there are numerous online dance tutorials and even live workshops dedicated to teaching iconic numbers and dance styles from the stage show.

 

Strictly Come Dancing cast perform a rendition of a “Lion King” routine.

 

 

On November 6, 2017 some original cast members came together with some of the newer additions for a special class reunion of sorts, to celebrate the Broadway shows 20th anniversary. Stars from other Broadway shows and areas of entertainment were also in attendance and graced the red carpet. Another attendee was Michael Eisner, who led Disney during the reign of the original “Lion King.”  As if having that many stars of stage and film present wasn’t exciting enough, the audience cast members was stunned by a surprise performance from Elton John, who performed the popular opening theme, “The Circle of Life,” along with 4 other classic themes he also wrote for the original Disney animated film. Those in attendance went wild at John’s show stopping serenade as he sat surrounded by the cast.

 

Elton John surrounded by cast as he serenades them for the Broadway shows 20th anniversary. (Clip by Disney on Broadway).

 

 

On and off the red carpet, guests shared their excitement over the 20th anniversary, as well as the recent announcement of Disney’s live action remake of “The Lion King.” Slated to be directed by Jon Favreau, who also directed the wildly popular “The Jungle Book,” the new version of “The Lion King” will include songs from the 1994 animated classic on which it was based. While the original cast was met with rave reviews and has been beloved for all these years, the recent announcement of the latest cast, set to debut in 2019 sent fans into a frenzy. With the recent death of iconic actor Robert Guillaume, who was the voice of Rafiki, actor John Kani will bring Rafiki to life in the new version. While legendary actor James Earl Jones will reprise his role as Mufasa from the 1994 animated film, other beloved characters are getting a makeover. Donald Glover will play Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as his nemesis Scar; Keegan-Michael Key will play a hyena named Kamari; Comedian John Oliver as Zazu; funnyman Seth Rogan as Pumbaa; Billy Eichner as Timon; Alfre Woodard as Sirabi; Eric Andre as Azizi; Florence Kasumba as Shenzi; and child actors JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph as young Simba and Nala. Rounding off the new cast, the Twittersphere was sent into a whirlwind when Queen B – Mrs. Beyoncé herself tweeted headshots of the new cast with her included, confirming that she will be playing Simba’s love interest Nala. With fans already a buzz, they will have to wait until Summer 2019, when the live action rendition is slated for release.

 

With killer choreography, costumes, characters  and the all star cast just announced, including superstar additions like Beyoncé, this latest rendition of this cinematic classic is sure to have audiences roaring with applause.

 

Now the biggest musical of all time, grossing $1.4 billion on Broadway and $7 billion world-wide, ‘The Lion King” has seen productions in Africa, Europe, Asia and Mexico. Grossing around $2 million per week, the musical regularly exceeds 99% of the Minskoff Theater’s 1,600+ seated capacity.  If you’re a Broadway fan or just a fanatic for Simba and and the rest, and still haven’t seen this production, what are you waiting for?

Check out this enchanting clip below from the Australian stage show cast.

About the author:

Having fearlessly explored every continent, Nneka is multi-lingual and passionate about travel, culture and life. A SDSU alumni, she has worked in KTVU Fox's newsroom, interviewed notable figures and hosted programs for various media outlets. She has also written features for The San Leandro Times and LostGirlsWorld.com. Also a seasoned performer and fitness professional, Nneka holds several fitness certifications, has shared the stage with entertainment icons, and has appeared on various TV Shows.

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