The success of Disney's The Lion King
on the big screen resulted in a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation
in 1997. Directed by Julie Taymor, the Broadway production is still running, having won the 1998 Best Musical Tony Award, and was the first such show to gross over $1 billion
as of 2013. Touring and sit-down productions have been mounted in dozens of countries, and as of September 2014
its total $6.2 billion
take has rendered it the single most successful entertainment venture of all time.
The show is famous for its Spectacle
: While faithful to the film's story and songs, visually it eschews the relatively literal, film-based costumes and sets of Disney's previous Broadway adaptation Beauty and the Beast
in favor of using a variety of creative methods to "animate" its characters and setting, with costumes that often cross over with puppetry.
The musical provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: A mild case in the musical, especially with Rafiki. Nala and Scar get a bit more too. Most of the additions are just songs, though. At one point, Zazu turn his head toward the audience and says "That wasn't in the cartoon.", and at another point attacks his own puppeteer when he thinks Mufasa is about to fire him. There are also several new songs, including solos for Simba and Nala ("Endless Night" and "Shadowland" respectively).
- Arc Symbol: Circles, according to Julie Taymor.
- Artistic License – Biology: While the film itself is rather good about it, the theater adaptation seems to make Shenzi more of a moll to Banzai, despite the fact that hyena packs are well-known matriarchies.
- Book Ends: The giraffes, zebras, gazelles, birds, cheetah, rhinoceros and elephant calf from the beginning of the show reappear at the end.
- Call Back: The scene where Simba has to rescue Timon from the waterfall has him hanging from a tree branch, just as had happened to Simba in the gorge; in fact the multi-tiered set used for the gorge is reused as the waterfall set. This is of course deliberate so as to induce a Heroic BSOD for Simba, since the lighting and music switch to recall the stampede as well.
- The Caligula: Scar's status as this is given a new song here.
- Dark Reprise: Of "Be Prepared", as Scar assumes the throne.
- Dual Wielding: Mufasa and Simba, against the hyenas and Scar respectively.
- The Eleven O'Clock Number: Despite being a reprise, "He Lives in You" is this, since it's the emotional high point prior to the climax that resolves most of Simba's issues. Also a Show Stopper.
- Gender Flip: The musical makes Rafiki a woman, since Julie Taymor felt that there weren't enough female characters. It doesn't hurt the story at all!
- "I Am Becoming" Song: "He Lives in You" becomes this for Simba by the end.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: Nala's explanation for fleeing the Pride Lands in this version is Scar deciding to make her his mate when he realizes She Is All Grown Up.
- Irrelevant Act Opener: "One by One". Also doubles as a Set Switch Song.
- The Long List: In "The Madness of King Scar", Scar asks Zazu what Mufasa had what he doesn't have. Zazu responds with "Do you want the short list or the long?"
- Lovable Coward: During the final battle sequence, we can see Zazu (having escaped his cage offscreen) fleeing in terror from a hyena.
- Match Cut: During the mourning for Mufasa, the curtain lowers to show Rafiki's tree for her moment of wiping away Simba's portrait. After the heartbreaking trio of her, Sarabi, and Nala ends, the curtain rises again—and Simba, collapsed in the desert, has replaced Mufasa's body.
- Mood Whiplash: The entr'acte before Act II opens with the chorus singing a light-hearted song called "One by One" with bird puppets and kites. However, once the song is over, the birds are replaced by vultures and gazelle skeletons, which reveals just how worse things have gotten since Scar took over.
- Mythology Gag: During the new scene where Simba, when trying to rescue Timon, has a flashback to the wildebeest stampede, a river and waterfall figure prominently. This is a reference to the original appearance of such scenery during the Cut Song "Warthog Rhapsody" from the film. It may also act as a Continuity Nod (and Call Forward) to Simba's Pride, where Simba is still haunted by the day at the gorge, this time in his nightmares (which in turn carry through from his Bad Dreams in 1 ½).
- Nude-Colored Clothing: Some of the plant costumes are examples of this. Also downplayed; for many characters, the shoes are flesh colored.
- Old Retainer: Zazu, even more so than in the original animation. At one point he consoled Mufasa regarding Simba's rebellious streak; "I seem to recall a young lion cub, more willful than wise. And he achieved some prominence."
- Pantomime Animal: The bull elephant and the rhinoceros.
- Parental Bonus: This exchange between Scar and Zazu:
Scar: I need to buck up.
Zazu: You've already bucked up royally!
- And of course, let's not forget THIS gem between Adult Simba, Timon and Pumbaa:
Adult Simba: "You know, you're turning into a couple of old farts!"
Pumbaa: "Well he's got ME pegged."
- Sanity Slippage: Scar suffers from this during his rule as king. This is more evident in "The Madness of King Scar" as he hallucinates of Mufasa. He also begins arguing with himself midway and finally breaks down.
- Show Stopper: "Circle of Life" is still this, but both the scene in the gorge and "He Lives in You" also qualify.
- Simple Staff: Scar's Weapon of Choice, though some productions change it to a Blade on a Stick.
- Spikes of Villainy: Scar's costume.
- Split Screen: In a variation, Simba's final heartfelt chorus of "Endless Night" is overlapped with Rafiki listening in with an ear horn, so that he's still onstage at the same time she realizes he's alive.
- Tenor Boy: Adult Simba.
- Two Act Structure: Act 1 is Simba's childhood and Scar's plot to become King. Act 2 is Adult Simba coming to terms with his grief and guilt and deciding to reclaim his throne from Scar.
- Villain Love Song: "The Madness of King Scar" starts as a Villainous Breakdown and ends as this when Nala enters the scene.
- Villain Song: Aside from "Be Prepared", the hyenas get "Chow Down".
- Visible Invisibility: The puppet operators are always visible — most notably, Timon's actor is bright green, and Zazu is a small puppet riding on the actor's head — and yet you can easily focus on the puppets rather than the actors.
- This also applies to many stage mechanics and devices that, in most musicals, are kept hidden; this was highly intentional, to produce an effect where imagination filled the scene in.