The musical debuted July 8, 1997, in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Orpheum Theatre, and was an instant success before premiering on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theater on October 15, 1997 in previews with the official opening on November 13, 1997. On June 13, 2006, the Broadway production moved to the Minskoff Theatre to make way for the musical version of Mary Poppins, where it is still running after more than 5,350 performances. It is now Broadway's third longest-running show in history. As of April 2012, it is the highest grossing Broadway show of all time, having grossed $1,091,440,972.
The show debuted in the West End's Lyceum Theatre on October 19, 1999 and is still running. The cast of the West End production were invited to perform at the Royal Variety Performance 2008 at the London Palladium on December 11, in the presence of senior members of the British Royal Family.
The story follows a young lion cub named Simba, born into royalty as heir to his father, Mufasa's, throne. Mufasa's evil brother, Scar, desires power over the kingdom and conspired with a legion of hyenas to kill Mufasa and Simba, and take over the land in their place. While Mufasa is murdered, Simba survives the attack and is blamed, by Scar, for his father's demise. Exiled, Simba must regain his courage and face the difficulties of his past to defeat Scar and reclaim his role in the Circle of Life.
Many of the animals portrayed in the production are actors in costume using extra tools to move their costumes. For example, the giraffes are portrayed by actors carefully walking on stilts. For principal characters such as Mufasa and Scar, the costumes feature mechanical headpieces that can be raised and lowered to foster the illusion of a cat "lunging" at another. Other characters, such as the hyenas, Zazu, Timon, and Pumbaa, are portrayed by actors in life-sized puppets or costumes. The Timon character is described by Taymor as one of the hardest roles to master because the movement of the puppet's head and arms puts a strain on the actor's arms, back, and neck.
Pippa Bennett-Warner/Nathalie Emmanuel/Dominique Moore
Variations from the 1994 film
Rafiki's gender was changed to a female role because Taymor believed that there was generally no leading female character in the film.
A major narrative addition is the depiction of Nala's departure in the scene "The Madness of King Scar," where the mentally deteriorating villain tries to make Nala his mate. Nala refuses and later announces her intention to depart the Pride Lands and find help. She receives the blessings of the lionesses and Rafiki during the new song "Shadowland."
The hyenas Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed have their own musical number titled "Chow Down" where they plan to eat Simba and Nala who stumble upon the Elephant Graveyard.
When Mufasa talks to Simba about his ancestors, he sings a variation of "He Lives in You" titled "They Live in You".
A conversation between Mufasa and Zazu about Mufasa's parenting was added.
The scene featuring a cheetah preparing to hunt a giraffe was added, followed by Scar leading Simba to the gorge where the "Stampede" sequence would later begin. In the original, there was no scene with a cheetah preparing to hunt a giraffe.
The scene where Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed warm Simba that they will kill him if he comes back to the Pride Lands was replaced with a scene where Rafiki and the lionesses mourn over Mufasa's dead body before moving on to Scar's plan to take over Pride Rock.
During the scene where Scar and the hyenas take over Pride Rock, he and the hyenas sing a reprise of "Be Prepared". This was not in the final version of the original film; however, it was included in a deleted scene after Nala refuses to be Scar's queen.
After the musical number "Hakuna Matata", it includes a musical number where a large chorus begins the second act using bird puppets and kites.
Starving antelopes were seen during the opening of the second act which is set during the famine.
The part with Zazu singing a song to impress Scar but only to annoy him during the famine features a different song depending on the local production. For example, in the original Broadway adaptation, he sings a snippet of "Be Our Guest" while in the Las Vegas production at Mandalay Bay, he sings a snippet of "Viva Las Vegas". In the film, he sings snippets of "It's a Small World" and "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" before moving on to the musical number "The Madness of King Scar".
A perilous scene in which Timon finds himself nearly drowning in a waterfall while Simba feels powerless to help him as two crocodiles prepare to eat him.
While the film has several pop-culture references, the musical takes a broader approach by breaking the fourth wall several times; this is most prominent with the character of Zazu.
For example during the beginning of the musical number "I Just Can't Wait to be King", he rarely shouts to Simba and Nala "Not what you did in the cartoon", referring to the original film where Zazu was crushed by a rhinoceros at the end of the musical number.
In the film, when Timon and Pumbaa distract the hyenas, Timon dances the hula. In the musical, he dances the Charleston.
"King of Pride Rock"/"Circle of Life" (Reprise) - Rafiki, Simba, Nala, Pumbaa, Timon, Zazu, and Ensemble
The Circle of Life (from the original German cast).
Gazelles and cheetah (from the Las Vegas cast of The Lion King)
Young Simba and Nala
Wilson D. Michaels as Mufasa
Circle of Life
Pumbaa, Simba and Timon singing Hakuna Matata
The original London cast version of Circle of Life
Mufasa and Simba from the touring cast
Young Simba and Nala
Simba confronts Scar
Simba becomes the new king of Pride Rock
The Monkey King (aka Sun Wukong), a character in the Shanghai Disneyland production in "I Just Can't Wait to Be King".
A 2018 April Fools joke image of The Lion King coming to Antarctica in 2019, which is not actually true.
Zazu costume for the April Fools joke of the Antarctica production. Note that this depiction of Zazu in the April Fools joke of the Antarctica production is an emperor penguin instead of a hornbill, as penguins are commonly found in Antarctica.
The Lion King Antarctica Ship for the April Fools joke of the Antarctica production.
Like its predecessor, the Beauty and the Beast musical, the show adds more songs to its stage production, including Morning Report, sung by Zazu the hornbill and later added to the film for the Platinum Edition DVD release.
"Shadowland," originally featured on the CD Rhythm of the Pride Lands with Zulu lyrics as "Lea Halelela", was adapted for the musical with new English lyrics. It is sung by Nala, the lionesses, and Rafiki.
"Endless Night", also from Rhythm of the Pride Lands with Swahili lyrics as "Lala" is sung by Simba while reflecting on Mufasa's promise to always be there.
"One By One" from the Rhythm of the Pride Lands CD was adapted as the rousing African-styled Entre Act sung by the chorus at the opening of the second act.
During the show's run in China, Chinese elements were included in the musical. One of the songs was adapted to a well-known Chinese pop song, "Laoshu ai dami" or "Mice Love Rice". The cast even cracked jokes and attempted conversations with the audience in Chinese.
As of June 27, 2010, nine minutes of the Broadway version were cut (these cuts also affect the US National Touring productions):
Composer Lebo M led the original Broadway chorus. The chorus members are usually visible in the production, rather than being hidden in the shadows as seen in some other musical shows.
A new section of the production, the Lioness Hunt, features a particularly complicated dance sequence for the actresses, and the dance is made even more difficult by the large headpieces worn during the scene.
"Timon Hula" is often portrayed as "Luau Hawaiian Treat" in other versions of the musical.