Number 1 on Broadway this week: “The Lion King.” Number 1 five years ago: “The Lion King.” Ten years ago: “The Lion King.” 15 Years ago; yup. “The Lion King,” with shows playing most everywhere all over the world, celebrated its 15th anniversary last night at the Minskoff Theater, a cavernous, cold modern space that is defeated by the musical’s simplicity, elegance, and heart. I was actually a little surprised how good the show looks and how well it runs. We were told that creator Julie Taymor had come in a few days earlier to tune it up for the big night. In particular she worked with Patrick Brown, the actor who currently plays the villiain Scar–and he kind of stole the show, although I really loved Tshidi Manye, who plays Rafiki, the medicine woman, with abundant charm.
Everyone was present from Taymor to Disney Theatrical chief Tom Schumacher, who produced “The Lion King” with Peter Schneider. Also Irene Mecchi and Roger Allers, who wrote the book, and Tim Rice, who co-wrote the now famous songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “The Circle of Life” with Elton John. (Sir Elton was MIA, I’m, maybe due to a dispute with Disney.) Cast members from all the years were in the audience, especially the originals, which gave the show an electric feel. There was definitely a snap in the air. Also in the audience: former “Scar” Patrick Page, also now the former Green Goblin of “Spider Man” and a Tony nominee. The last time we saw him he was hanging from the ceiling.
“The Lion King” is a fairly spare, sophisticated enterprise for something so popular. It is not “Wicked” or “Cats.” Starting with a strong book and songs, Taymor has created one of those rare pieces of art that transcends commercialism. Still brimming in traditional colors and music of South Africa, “The Lion King” is a joyous adventure. When the lights go down and the safari “animals”– the first of Taymor and co’s many dazzling puppets–come down the aisles, the effect is still breathtaking. Several of the creators had tears in their eyes at that moment. They’ve made something that even transcends language. In April 2013, “The Lion King” opens in Brazil, translated into Portugese.