“Broadway is back.”
Words that carry more depth, more happiness, more life than any others I’ve heard recently. Words that mean everything to me, words that run through my ears as I sat in the Orchestra of the Minskoff Theatre last night as I witnessed the official reopening night of Disney On Broadway’s The Lion King
Growing up in New York, Broadway has been the pinnacle of my passions, my love for the city, and has been responsible for so many of my incredible childhood memories. When I think of my core memories I think of Broadway, I think of being ten years old wearing a blue dress with a little daisy on it and sitting in the front row of the Mezzanine to see Matilda, my very first Broadway Show. I think of seeing Annie not so long after that, and Mama Mia after that, and each and every time having a feeling inside of me that I was on top of the whole world. Broadway changed my life, it’s affected who I am in so many different ways and I attribute it to so much greatness in my day to day. As we grew up, Broadway became more of a routine than a special occasion because of how much we loved it, but it never once lost its magic. We would scramble for tickets on sites like TDF, wait in rush lines at 7 in the morning, and enter Broadway lotteries left and right, ending up never going more than two weeks without a show, fueling our love of the art right out in front of us. At every Broadway show, I’ve been too since that first day at Matilda in 2013, every experience has been different. Different theaters, different actors, many different shows, but the one thing that has remained the same through hundreds of Broadway Shows, was the person sitting next to me. My mom came with me to every show, every tear I shed in a broadway theater was witnessed by her, it had become something that we shared and adored, there was nobody else in this world I’d rather share a show with. We grew up together in and out of theaters, as she watched the incredible world of live art and entertainment that was broadway erupt before my eyes. When the shutdown happened over a year and a half ago, Broadway went dark and it felt like a part of our life had as well. Our multiple monthly Broadway outings were a thing of the past, the happiness it brought us had been placed in a little locked box, one that we weren’t quite sure would ever be opened again. Our hearts ache for the performers, for the stagehands, directors, ushers, makeup artists, child wranglers, sound and lighting designers, for every incredible person whose unmatched creativity and love for their craft poured together to create a Broadway show. Seeing the industry that had given us so much struggling the way that it was broke our hearts, I spent so much time thinking about the first night we’d be back on broadway.
I love Manhattan more than anything else in this world and I attribute so much of that love and appreciation to Broadway, seeing something that my city produced at such a young age made me feel so much pride, so much happiness that the place I lived created such incredible art. So many of these people on stage shared a place of home with me, some of them may have grown up the way I did, too. Though I grew up just outside, I knew throughout my whole life, since seeing Matilda at ten years old, that I needed to move there at some point. So not too long ago at seventeen I packed up my things and moved here, but two things were missing. Broadway, and the person who was by my side in every show. Moving here without my mom was one of the most difficult things I’ve done, living under the same roof as your person and then all of the sudden being in a different place entirely was not easy for us, but the lack of Broadway in my city, the lack of the thing we used to love made it so much harder.
But that brings us to last night. Last night on September 14th at 7:30 pm, the lights went down in the Minskoff Theatre for the first time in over 550 days. The overture began to play for Disney On Broadway’s The Lion King, and in that moment I remembered that feeling of being a little girl so vividly, that feeling of being ten years old and sitting in a Broadway theater ready to do anything I set my mind to, a feeling that I thought I’d lost and had been chasing ever since.
“Welcome back,” Tony Award-Winning Director Julie Taymor said as she walked onto the stage. The room absolutely erupted into a fit of cheers, not a dry eye in the house. This reminded me how much every single person in that room, every single person with a love of Broadway had felt the same way as me. I wondered if they also felt like a kid again, I wondered if this took them back to their very first show. I shared the room with The Today Show’s Jenna Bush Hager and Carson Daly, Gloria Steinem, Kristin Chenoweth, Salman Rushdie, Jelani Alladin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Ashley Brown, Greg Hildreth, and John Riddle. Though all of us got to witness the opening number in person, so many Tiktok users around the world got to experience it too via a Livestream of the “Circle Of Life.” After the show a friend of mine texted me to tell me how much he had cried watching the stream, the idea of welcoming everyone back to Broadway at the same time and not just those who could be in New York that night truly encompasses everything that Broadway is about. It’s about coming together and appreciating this incredible art form that’s upon us all. When singing the song “He Lives In You,” The Lion King ensemble teaches Simba that his father’s legacy and strength live within him and that he can be whoever he wants to be. The reopening performance went to show that the love of Broadway lives in all of us and combined with the magic of Disney, nothing is impossible.
The Lion King is a show that can be enjoyed by families and people of all ages worldwide. It’s rapidly approaching its 24 landmark years on the milestone on Broadway, a soaring accomplishment. Seeing such a visually amazing show that touched everyone’s heart so greatly as our first show back was nothing short of incredible. I could feel every piece of myself coming back. The Broadway cast of The Lion King stars Stephen Carlile as Scar, L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa, Tshidi Manye as Rafiki, Cameron Pow as Zazu, Ben Jeffrey as Pumbaa, Fred Berman as Timon, Brandon A. McCall as Simba, Adrienne Walker as Nala, James Brown-Orleans as Banzai, Bonita J. Hamilton as Shenzi and Robb Sapp as Ed. Vince Ermita and Corey J. alternate as Young Simba, and Alayna Martus and Sydney Elise Russell alternate as Young Nala. The Lion King also features Lawrence Keith Alexander, Cameron Amandus, Leanne Antonio, Andrew Arrington, India Bolds Browne, Lindiwe Dlamini, Zinhle Dube, Bongi Duma, Angelica Edwards, Jim Ferris, Rosie Lani Feldman, Daniel Gaymon, Pia Hamilton, Daniel Harder, Michael Alexander Henry, Michael Hollick, Pearl Khwezi, Lindsey Jackson, Lisa Lewis, Mduduzi Madela, Jaysin McCollum, Ray Mercer, S’bu Ngema, Nhlanhla Ngobeni, Nteliseng Nkhela, Jacqueline René, Kaylin Seckel, Kellen Stencil, Housso Semon, Derrick Spear, Michael Stiggers Jr., Jamie J. Thompson, Bravita Threatt, Natalie Turner, Donna Michelle Vaughan, Nicholas Ward and Stephen Scott Wormley.
The Lion King won six 1998 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical. The Lion King has also earned more than 70 major arts awards including the 1998 NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the 1999 Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, the 1999 Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Event of the Year and the 1999 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Choreography and Best Costume Design. The Broadway score features Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs from The Lion King animated film along with three new songs by John and Rice; additional musical material by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer; and music from “Rhythm of the Pride Lands,” an album inspired by the original music in the film, written by Lebo M, Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer. The resulting sound of The Lion King is a fusion of Western popular music and the distinctive sounds and rhythms of Africa, ranging from the Academy Award®-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to Lebo M’s rich choral numbers.
The book has been adapted by Roger Allers, who co-directed the animated The Lion King feature, and Irene Mecchi, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay. Other members of the creative team include Michael Curry, who designed the masks and puppets with Taymor, Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design), Michael Ward (hair and makeup design), Anthony Lyn (associate director), Marey Griffith (associate choreographer), Clement Ishmael (music supervisor) and Doc Zorthian (production supervisor). Anne Quart serves as co-producer.
I’ll forever be grateful for Broadway for creating such a special place for me and my mom, but The Lion King will now hold the most special place in my heart. It reminded me once again, how beautiful life can truly be.
Want to experience the magic for yourself? Find tickets to Disney On Broadway’s The Lion King here!