‘Awe-inspiring… Broadway theater is alive again… It’s gorgeous, gasp-inducing spectacle. The show appeals to our primal, childlike excitement in the power of theatre to make us see things afresh….’ – Richard Zoglin, Time
‘South Africa has played a vitally important role in the life of The Lion King,’ says Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions. ‘South African performers have been in every single production of The Lion King, from the first show in New York to the nine other productions which have played to packed houses around the world. Audiences have seen and felt the extraordinary talent, warmth and spirit which these performers and the South African music bring to the show. We are all extremely proud that South Africa will host the 10th anniversary production of The Lion King.’
About the show
The Lion King is an extension of the award-winning animated film of the same name, which screened in South Africa in 1995. The story follows the life and adventures of young Simba, a lion cub driven into exile after his father’s tragic death; his coming to terms with his responsibilities; and ultimately his return to his kingdom to overthrow his wicked uncle and take up his rightful role as king.
The show’s musical score has been expanded significantly since the film version, and features a powerful fusion of Western popular music with the rich and beautiful rhythms of African music based on South African musician Lebo M’s album, Rhythm of the Pride Lands, which was inspired by the film.
Lebo M, who was choral director on the Broadway hit, also made it a practice to include a minimum of six South African singers in practically every show because of the rich timbre and emotional essence that their voices add to the musical.
The South African team
The Lion King in South Africa will be co-produced locally by Lebo M and Pieter Toerien.
The joint venture between Lebo M and Pieter Toerien is a ‘great move in the right direction,’ comments Pieter Toerien. ‘It reflects the transformational policies of South Africa and brings together Lebo’s vast experience on The Lion King and my experience in producing Broadway musicals in South Africa, including Cats and Phantom of the Opera.’
Lebo M, acknowledged by Disney to be ‘the voice and spirit behind the show’, elaborates on the partnership. ‘My company, Till Dawn, will be responsible for the creative aspects of the production, as well as the casting, marketing and advertising, while Pieter Toerien will be responsible for putting the show together, and handling the financial management and logistics.’
Bongani Tembe, internationally accomplished classical music singer, chief executive and artistic director of the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, and director of the South African National Arts Council, has been appointed to add his significant know-how to the production and join Lebo M and Pieter Toerien as associate producer, responsible for assembling the orchestra, and other supporting roles.
The South African production will feature a purely South African cast of 53 artists. Countrywide casting is scheduled to begin in September 2006 and end early in 2007. ‘This is a great opportunity to develop skills within our industry and create jobs for many who possibly would otherwise be unemployed,’ notes Lebo M. This will be only the second time in the production’s history that the cast consists entirely of members from the host country.
The technical team of 40 will consist of about half from South Africa and half from other international Lion King productions. ‘To give an idea of the technological magnitude of this show, the total number of stage crew on our local production of The Phantom of the Opera was five,’ says Toerien, who views this production as an incredibly exciting challenge.
The orchestra of 20 members, which features a highly accomplished percussion section, will be sourced as far as possible within South Africa, depending on the skills available, says Tembe.
The Lion King will open at the Teatro at Montecasino on Wednesday, 6th of June 2007. Booking for the show will open at Computicket on 29th of October 2006, and prices will range from R150–R425.
Teatro at Montecasino
The enormous theatrical dimensions of The Lion King demand a theatre and stage of specific proportions, which, until the development of the Teatro at Montecasino; have not been available in this magnitude in South Africa.
The Teatro, which will host The Lion King as its opening Broadway musical, is the only true lyric theatre in South Africa and is acoustically designed for large scale musical productions. It will accommodate 1 900 people at full capacity, making it the largest theatre in South Africa, and one of the 10 largest lyric theatres in the world.