he Lion King began as a popular Disney animated feature film in 1994, but back then no one imagined that it would become a worldwide blockbuster stage production. In fact, when it was being assembled for Broadway’s refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre, a lot of skeptics wondered what would become of a story about heroic and often cute anthropomorphic characters in the hands of Julie Taymor, a respected but avant-garde director.
No one wonders about that anymore. Since its debut on Nov. 13, 1997, The Lion King has surpassed the global box-office record for earnings. It won six Tony Awards in 1998, including recognition for the season’s best musical and best costume design. In total, the original production earned more than 70 major awards including the 1998 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best musical and the 1999 Grammy Award for best musical show album. In 1999, its original London production won the Evening Standard Award for theatrical event of the year, as well as two Laurence Olivier Awards.
Now in its 18th year in New York City, The Lion King is often still the top-grossing show in any given week on Broadway. More than 15 million people have seen touring productions of the show in more than 70 North American cities. It has returned to Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for a four-week stop (through April 26) presented by Disney Theatrical Productions and Broadway in Cincinnati.
For 2015, The Lion King will have “only” 32 performances (four weeks is double the length of time that most tours are presented at the Aronoff), likely meaning total attendance for these three stops could top 350,000 people — more than the population of the city of Cincinnati!
These are staggering numbers for a show about wild animals in Africa. In truth, it’s a more universal parable told by people brilliantly outfitted as lions, elephants, giraffes, antelopes, hyenas and birds, as well as a comic meerkat and warthog. Taymor’s imaginative costumes and puppet designs invite audiences to see the performers within them in a way that adds drama to the story.
The Lion King, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati, continues at the Aronoff Center through April 26. More info:cincinnati.broadway.com.