“The Lion King” on Broadway: A review

A Broadway Icon

Journey with BroadwayPass to the Pride Lands where a young lion prince is born. His story is a tough one and is one of the biggest crossover hits both on screen and stage with billions of fans of all ages.

Broadway is a place for both young and old. Performances like “Hamilton”, and “The Phantom of the Opera” are directed to a more mature audience. The teenagers have “Dear Evan Hansen” or “Mean Girls”. Yet the youngest are always welcome, too. You can always bring them to “Aladdin”, “Frozen” or “The Lion King”.

A favorite of several generations!

The musical “The Lion King” is based on the iconic Disney animation from the mid-’90s. It premiered on Broadway on October 15, 1997, in “New Amsterdam Theater”. The production moved to “Minskoff Theater” in 2008. The “Lion King” is one of the biggest names on Broadway – 3rd longest-running and the highest-grossing show of all time with more than 1 billion, and at the time of its 20th birthday, it has grossed 8.1 billion worldwide.

“The Lion King” is a story about the delicate balance of nature. By just pushing one block – the death of Mufasa, it sent in motion a huge chain of events – Scar usurping power, and devastating the entire Pride Lands – the vegetation dies, and the animals starve. It all gets right when Simba takes the throne.

Rafiki and the Royal Famili

Act I starts with the iconic scene from the movie. Rafiki (a lady in the musical) gathers all the animals of the Pride Lands to announce the birth of the son of the beloved royal couple – Mufasa and Sarabi. Then the spirits give her a name for the cub – Simba.

Simba grows to be a cheerful and curious cub, prone to get in trouble. His uncle – Scar, the main antagonist of the musical, mentions the Elephant graveyard. Simba, along with Nala (his best friend and future queen) lied to their mothers and fooled Zazu (Mufasa’s chief advisor) who was “babysitting” them. When there, the two cubs are attacked by Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed – the hyena henchmen of Scar. However, the hyenas were scared away by Mufasa. Then he proceeds to scold the bravery and bravado of the young one but is reminded by Zazu that he used to do the same.

The elephant graveyard

Scar sets his evil plan in motion – takes Simba to a gorge, and his hyenas start a stampede. Mufasa rushes to save Simba but gets trampled. Then Scar blames it on Simba and banishes him. Then Scar sends the hyenas after Simba to kill him, but they fail and lie to Scar. While Rafiki, Nala, and Sarabi mourn Simba, he wonders in the desert. As vultures start flocking over him, he gets saved by a couple of uncommon friends. Yes, those are Timon and Pumbaa. They take Simba under their wing and teach him the Hakuna Matata.

“Lion King” as a traditional Royal drama. You can find similarities in the whole genre, and you can even draw a parallel with “Hamlet”. You have Claudius aka Scar, who kills the rightful king, and them Hamlet – Simba, journey to find his revenge. Mufasa is King Hamlet. Sarabi can be seen as Gertrude and Polonius as Zazu.

Hakuna Matata!

Act II brings devastation over the Pride Lands. Zazu is a prisoner, and Scar has lost his mind. Nala approaches him for all the famine and disasters. Scar tries to take her as his “Queen” but she escapes and goes on a journey to find help. During her venture, she encounters Pumbaa (well, she tries to catch and eat him). And he’s saved by Simba. She’s amazed that he’s alive and tells him about the crisis in the Pride Lands. Simba refuses to return because he feels responsible for Mufasa’s

Simba, however, tries to meet with Rafiki. She tells him that Mufasa lives in the stars. Then he appears in the sky and tells Simba that he’s the rightful king. He is joined by Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa. The latter two distract the hyenas by dancing a Charleston.

At the same time, Scar calls Sarabi to ask why the lionesses are not hunting. They change some lines – Sarabi accuses him of being a terrible king and Scar answers that he’s ten times the king his brother was. Simba then strikes from the shadow. Scar corners him and admits he killed Mufasa. This probably sets in motion the most epic part of the play – Simba fights Scar, and his friends – the hyenas. Scar pleas for mercy and Simba let him go but tries to deal him a sucker punch. He jumps at Simba but gets blocked. He then falls off the cliff. And gets eaten by the hyenas.

A clash of kings

Simba proceeds to take his rightful position as king of the Pride Lands. He climbs Pride Rock and roars! Everyone celebrates, as the Pride Lands return to normal. Then Rafiki presents King Simba and Queen Nala their royal baby. 

What makes “The Lion King” the huge standout that it is are definitely the visuals. And nothing is CGI or green-screened. Instead, they use masks and puppets, that have drawn inspiration from all over the world – the Bunraku Japanese Theatre, the Indonesian shadow puppets, and the masks are of African descent. They were sculpted by Julie Taymor herself, and they are intended to look handcrafted to be more authentic.  This makes the actors on stage look like supernatural creatures – centaurs, chimeras, and manticores. They have turns into a cult classic of their own and even have a YouTube series dedicated to them.

Elton John
Lebo M

The music is written by a star-studded team – Elton John, Tim Rice, Roger Allers, Irene Mecchi, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer. A whole galaxy! Most of the songs are written by Lebo M, thus an all-round African vibe. A lot of eternal classics were produced there like Circle of Life, Hakuna Matata, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and literally all of the rest!

“The Lion King” has won numerous awards all over the world. The Broadway production received 10 nominations on the 1998 Tony Awards, winning 5 – Best Director of a Musical for Julie Taymor, Best Choreography for Garth Fagan, Best Scenic, Costume and Lighting Design.

Julie Taymor with The Tony Awards, 1998

“The Lion King” is an icon. You can see parents born in the 90s that have grown up with the movie bring their kids to see the musical. And both enjoy it in their own right! So, if you’re born somewhere in the mid-’80s or the early ’90s get yourself and your kid(s) (or nephews, godsons/goddaughters, cousins, etc.) tickets and head for a nostalgia trip to the Pride Lands!

Read more of our reviews: “Wicked“, “Diana“, as well as our series – “Love Stories of Broadway” and the “Villains of Broadway“, as well as the “Musicals based on real-life stories

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