Disney’s Tony-winning musical The Lion King is celebrating 15 magical years on Broadway. The landmark production, which combined cutting edge technology with inventive new uses for masks and puppets, opened at the newly refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13, 1997. A decade and a half later, The Lion King continues to be one of the hottest tickets in town at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre. In honor of its anniversary, Broadway.com shares 15 fascinating facts about a show everyone loves.
1. Julie Taymor became the first woman to win a Tony Award for Direction of a Musical for her work on The Lion King and took home a second Tony for the show's costumes.
2. Before giving a Tony-nominated performance as Mufasa, Samuel E. Wright provided the voice of Sebastian the Crab in Disney’s film The Little Mermaid and debuted the Oscar-winning song “Under the Sea.”
3. The character of Rafiki was changed from an old man in the film to a woman in the musical in order to provide a leading role for a female actress. Good call: Tsidii Le Loka received a Tony nomination for her performance.
4. The Broadway production has played through three Presidential administrations, four mayoral elections and the opening and closing of 536 Broadway shows.
5. The Rhinos in the musical wear Vans sneakers.
6. With a cumulative gross in excess of $5 billion, The Lion King has earned more than the Lord of the Rings film trilogy combined, more than the six Star Wars films combined and more than Avatar and Titanic combined.
7. Pumbaa’s costume weighs 45 pounds and is worn like a backpack.
8. The box office clout of The Lion King shows no signs of waning: 125,000 more tickets were sold in its 15th year than in the 14th, and 50,000 more tickets were sold than in the 10th year of the run.
9. Dancers in black costumes, gloves and hats manipulate pieces of Mufasa’s face on poles to create the scene in which he appears to Simba under the stars.
10. The Lion King’s 21 productions have played in 98 cities in 16 countries on every continent except Antarctica.
11. Pride Rock can rotate in either direction and is segmented into three parts, which go up and down separately (but in order).
12. Though The Lion King lost the 1998 Tony for Best Score to Ragtime, three of Elton John and Tim Rice's songs had already been nominated for the Oscar. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” won Best Song in 1995 over “The Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata.”
13. The Lion King orchestra is comprised of 23 musicians: 17 in the pit, two percussionists in the boxes and four brass instrumentalists who play down the hall because they don’t fit into the pit.
14. Despite being small, Zazu the bird is actually the most complicated puppet in the show.
15. In order to get into costume, the actor playing the giraffe sits at the top of a six-foot ladder and has a dresser help attach his headpiece and stilts to his feet and hands.