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November 28, 2014

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‘Lion King’ stalking the Strip

Disney bringing full-length favorite into Cirque du Soleil-dominant den

Image

Leila Navidi

Masks from “The Lion King” are on display during a recent sneak peak at preparations for Disney’s full-length production at Mandalay Bay. Previews begin April 22, and opening day is May 2. Disney could bring other productions here if this classic succeeds.

Robin Leach interviews Lion King producer

The Lion King musical will open at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in May 2009. In anticipation of the show's launch, Lion King producer Thomas Schumacher sat down and spoke with Robin Leach.

Click to enlarge photo

Tshidi Manye is in full dress as "Rafiki" during the recent sneak peak. The Disney production will take the place of the ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!"

Companies Around the World

  • New York
  • London
  • Hamburg, Germany
  • Paris
  • Tokyo
  • Fukuoka, Japan
  • Las Vegas (opening 2009)

By the Numbers

  • 11: Years on Broadway
  • 50 million: People who have seen the production worldwide
  • 11: Number of countries where it has been performed
  • More than 70: Awards, including six Tonys and a Grammy
  • 200 plus: Puppets
  • 53: Cast members
  • 21: Musicians
  • 17: Wardrobe people
  • 5: Hair and makeup artists
  • 3: Puppet craftsmen

Creative team

  • Director/costume designer/mask and puppet co-designer: Julie Taymor
  • Music: Elton John
  • Lyrics: Tim Rice
  • Additional music, lyrics: Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Hans Zimmer, Jay Rifkin
  • Book: Roger Allers, Irene Mecchi
  • Choreography: Garth Fagan
  • Scenic design: Richard Hudson
  • Lighting design: Donald Holder
  • Mask and puppet co-designer: Michael Curry
  • Hair, makeup design: Michael Ward
  • Sound design: Steven C. Kennedy
  • Associate director: Anthony Lyn
  • Production dance supervisor: Marey Griffith
  • Technical director: David Benken
  • Associate music producer/orchestrator: Robert Elhai
  • Orchestrator: David Metzger
  • Music coordinator: Michael Keller
  • Executive music producer: Chris Montan

Maybe Disney can challenge Cirque du Soleil for entertainment supremacy in Las Vegas.

Cirque reigns as the current king with six local Vegas productions — “Mystere,” “O,” “Zumanity,” “Ka,” “Love” and “Criss Angel: Believe” — and plans for a seventh, a show about Elvis set for CityCenter when it opens late next year or in early 2010.

But Disney plans to dip its paw in the water with “The Lion King.” The Broadway hit roars into town with previews beginning April 22 at Mandalay Bay and the premiere planned for May 2.

Producers assure fans this will not be “Lion King, The Las Vegas Spectacular.” It will run the full 2 hours 20 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission — just as it does on Broadway. It won’t be compressed to 90 minutes to fit the presumption that Vegas audiences have limited attention spans.

If “The Lion King” succeeds, Disney might think about bringing its other productions to Vegas.

Disney has two other shows running on Broadway — “Mary Poppins” and “The Little Mermaid.” It has a backlot full of other high-powered productions — “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aida,” “Peter Pan” and “Tarzan,” which lasted a year on Broadway and is now in Holland and Hamburg. Of course, there’s always “High School Musical,” the stage play created from the hit TV show.

Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Production, is amused by the possibility of Disney challenging Cirque.

“I have a long association with Cirque,” says Schumacher, who was in town recently promoting the upcoming debut of the Disney production. “I presented their first U.S. Engagement (‘We Reinvent the Circus’) in a parking lot in downtown Los Angeles on Labor Day 1987.”

“I have known Guy (Cirque founder Guy Lalibert) a very long time.”

Schumacher also has known “The Lion King” for 18 years.

He had modest success producing “The Rescuers Down Under” in 1990. Disney “punished me by giving me an orphaned film called ‘King of the Beasts’ to produce,” Schumacher says. “It was about this war between lions and baboons. There was no music. It was more of a National Geographic film.”

And lions have a limited repertoire, he says. “They sleep, they kill, they mate, they eat and then they do it all again.”

So he turned the Disney project into “The Lion King” with music by Elton John and Tim Rice. The film’s success came when “Beauty and the Beast” was hot on Broadway, so Schumacher was asked to turning his film into a Broadway show.

Schumacher isn’t thinking about bringing more Disney productions to Vegas.

“It isn’t impossible. But I have no idea what the landscape is out here,” he says. “What I know is our show. I know this team and this theater and I have confidence in that. It would be arrogant for me to tell you, ‘Here’s what we are going to do next.’ Let me do my show, say ‘Here’s what we do’ and go from there.”

He’s especially proud the Vegas show will be the same one fans see on Broadway.

“It’s the way we created it and it’s the way we wanted it to play,” he says. “It is good to leave it in the pure state.”

Scott Voeller, vice president of marketing at Mandalay Bay, isn’t concerned about the show opening when the city is feeling the recession.

“You can imagine when we first started talking about the show and getting things going we really weren’t in this situation, but things changed rapidly,” Voeller says. “But we have no real concern. This is not a new show. It’s in its 11th year on Broadway. It has such a brand recognition that we feel there is very little risk. It’s been one of the top five Broadway shows for the last 10 years.”

Voeller says it’s priced right with tickets from $53 to $113.50 and a VIP package for $168.

It also appeals to an audience with demographics similar to the show it replaces, “Mamma Mia!”

“Less than 5 percent of the people who come to Vegas come with kids under 18,” he says. “But ‘Lion King’ appeals to a broad-based audience. We feel very comfortable with it.”

After the ABBA musical ends its six-year run on Jan. 4, very little will have to be done to modify the theater at Mandalay Bay — saving on remodeling costs and cutting the down time between shows.

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