Celebs help celebrate Lion King birthday

Published October 19, 2009

Disney’s The Lion King celebrated its tenth London birthday yesterday with a star-studded gala performance attended by its proud creators and a host of jungle-loving celebrities.

In its decade of delighting London audiences, The Lion King, based on the Oscar-winning Disney film, has played more than 4,200 performances to more than 8 million theatregoers.

Among yesterday’s excited audience were actors Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Hugh Bonneville and the cast of the upcoming London production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – Adrian Lester, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan – TV presenters Gok Wan and Justin Lee Collins, and singers including Javine Hylton and The Saturdays’ Vanessa White, who both previously appeared in the production.

Speaking about The Lion King’s success, producer Thomas Schumacher said: “It’s profoundly gratifying to see that British audiences continue to embrace The Lion King in such an extraordinary way. I am tremendously proud of our entire creative team as well as our cast and crew in the West End who bring Julie Taymor’s glorious production to life each and every time the curtain rises.”

Taymor added: “Over the past 10 years, more than 220 performers from all over the world have been part of the incredible company in London, each bringing their own unique talents, energy and joy to help tell this universal story. The thing that moves me most about the success of The Lion King is the fact that it truly transcends the barriers between culture and between races and is able to tell a story in a style that speaks to everyone equally.”

The show first opened on Broadway in 1997 before making the transatlantic leap to its London home at the Lyceum theatre two years later. Since then it has employed more than 225 adult cast members and 64 children. Behind the scenes its education programme has included 400,000 school children, and its recently established ‘Cub School’ for young performers has seen its first graduates join the production last month.

The tale of lion cub Simba, who is tricked into thinking he has killed his father and runs away into exile, features Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs from the original animated film alongside addition music from Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer.

Speaking about Sunday’s performance, Jones, who voiced the character of Mufasa in the original movie, said: “It reminded me what theatre was really all about. I look up one moment and I’m seeing opera, the next moment I’m seeing ballet, next moment I’m seeing slapstick. It was all going on. It was all theatre. The first scene I was crying, which happened to me when I first saw the play in New York a long time ago.”

Video coverage of the celebrations can be viewed at the top right of this page.

MA