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."
A conversation between Mufasa and Zazu about Mufasa's parenting was added.
A perilous scene in which Timon finds himself nearly drowning in a waterfall while Simba feels powerless to help 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.
In the film, when Timon and Pumbaa distract the hyenas, Timon dances the hula. In the musical, he dances the Charleston.
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.