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Theatre / The Lion King

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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. A different mixture of techniques is used for each animal species; the lions are actors in costumes that allow the audience to see their human expressions, the elephants are pantomime animals, the hornbill Zazu is a rod puppet, and so on.

The musical provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: Timon in the film was running from the hyenas as they chased him. Here, he and Pumbaa fight them head on.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Zazu goes from blue and purple to white and orange in the stage play, more closely resembling the color of a real hornbill (it also grants the puppet more visibility, contrasting with his darker colored operator).
    • Timon's fur goes from a sandy tan to a more reddish-orange.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Rafiki gets more time on the stage, even addressing the audience.
    • Nala gets more to do, reinforcing her character as brave, determined and unwilling to bow to oppression; the reason she's able to run into Simba is because she has to leave the Pride Lands for fear Scar would force her to be his Queen.
    • Once he gains the throne, Scar is portrayed as self-conscious and depressed that he isn't loved by the populace and — at least in the earlier versions — is being driven mad by his guilt over killing Mufasa, seeing his brother's shade everywhere.
    • At one point during "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", Zazu turns 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. He also points out to Mufasa, who's worrying about Simba's headstrong nature, that he knew another such cub...who turned out to do very well.
    • An entirely new scene is added between Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa. Timon falls into a river and ends up dangling over a waterfall. Before Simba could leap in to save him, he is suddenly reminded of his father's death, and freezes from the relapsing trauma. Timon eventually falls to the bottom but emerges unharmed, no thanks to Simba.
    • There are also several new songs, including solos for Simba and Nala ("Endless Night" and "Shadowland" respectively). "He Lives in You" was actually adapted from the spin-off album Rhythm of the Pride Lands as both "He Lives in You" and "They Live in You" for the first act.
  • Arc Symbol: Circles, according to Julie Taymor.
  • Argument of Contradictions: As Scar breaks down in "The Madness of King Scar," he actually manages to have one of these with himself.
    I tell myself I'm fine
    Yes I am, no you're not
    Yes I am, no you're not
    I tell myself I'm fine
    No you're not, yes I am, no you're not
    Yes I am
    No you're not
    Yes, no, yes, no — WHO AM I TALKING TO?!?!?!? (maniacal laughter)
  • 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.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence:
    • The lions believe that the spirits of kings become stars when they die. Mufasa appears to Simba to call him out of his Self-Imposed Exile.
    • When the lionesses hunt and kill an antelope, its spirit leaves its body, represented by the performer leaving behind the antelope prop and dancing off to exit stage right.
  • Book Ends: The giraffes, zebras, gazelles, birds, cheetah, rhinoceros and elephant calf from the beginning of the show reappear at the end during the celebration.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • When the curtain comes down during "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" Zazu complains that this wasn't in the film.
    • Improvisation also leads to Zazu's puppeter, in the Chicago version, Zazu's puppeteer says that he can't go back to selling popcorn at Garret's when Mufasa threatens to fire him, and says that a scenery backdrop looks like a shower curtain from Target. In the current London version, Zazu says he can't go back to The Muppets, and the curtains look like they come from IKEA.
      • In the 2005 San Jose cast, Zazu notes that the curtains look like they're from Pier 1.
      • The UK tour version tends to localize the joke about the curtains. In Manchester, for example, Zazu jokes that they "look like a shower curtain from Bury Market", a joke that will land well with the average crowd of Mancunians, but which will be completely lost on just about everybody else.
    • As a distraction for the hyenas, Timon and Pumbaa have variously done the Charleston, a traditional Andalusian dance (in the Spanish production, at least), or — complete with green light — the Riverdance.
  • BSoD Song: "Endless Night" is one for Simba, as he sings to the stars. He asks where his father is and says the darkness seems permanent, because though Mufasa said he would always be watching him, Simba can't hear or see him. It's obvious he is depressed, especially after his rashness nearly led to Timon's death.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Lady: This story's version of Rafiki.
  • Dark Reprise: Of "Be Prepared", as Scar assumes the throne.
  • Desperately Seeking A Purpose In Life: After he grows up with Timon and Pumbaa, Simba becomes restless and starts moving from spot to spot in the jungle. This leads to Timon falling in the river and nearly down a waterfall.
  • Disabled in the Adaptation: Not that Scar was exactly a paragon of mental health in the original movie, but here he's portrayed as a good deal more insane. After some years into his rule, he sees Mufasa's ghost everywhere, has arguments with himself, and becomes increasingly paranoid.
  • 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!
  • "Hell, Yes!" Moment:
    • Rafiki starts cackling excitedly when she hears Simba singing as a grown lion and realizes that he is alive.
    • Nala is invigorated with hope when Rafiki informs her, Timon and Pumbaa that "the king has returned".
  • "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 that 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 dreams in 1 ½).
  • Never Mess with Granny: As one very unlucky hyena learns the hard way, Rafiki's Gender Flip does not affect her ability to be awesome.
  • 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."
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: In "The Madness of King Scar," when Scar wonders about the things he doesn't have that his brother did, Zazu mentions that among them is that he doesn't have a devoted queen. Scar seizes upon this idea and when Nala walks up, he starts singing about her, her "assets feminine" and how she has to be his Queen. Meanwhile, for several lines she entreats him to do something to control the hyenas and end the destruction of the Pridelands until she finally realizes just what he's singing about and is horrified.
  • 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."
    • The scene where Shenzi and Banzai say "Mufasa" to spook each other.
  • Predation Is Natural: Like in the film, Mufasa explains the Circle of Life to Simba. But the show goes a step further by actually showing Sarabi and the other lionesses chasing down and killing an antelope in the song "The Lioness Hunt." A young Nala is watching and learning from them during this song, reinforcing her future role as a hunter.
  • Sanity Slippage: Scar suffers from this during his rule as king. This is more evident in "The Madness of King Scar" as he has hallucinations of Mufasa. He also begins arguing with himself midway and finally breaks down.
  • Shown Their Work: Zazu's feathers are white in this version rather than blue. While this may have been intended to grant the puppet more visibility (his puppeteer manages to blend into the background, due to his dark clothing), it's worth mentioning that red-billed hornbills in real life are indeed white and grey in color rather than blue.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Throughout the show's Broadway run, whenever Scar asks Zazu to "lighten up" after singing "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen", Zazu had launched into "Be Our Guest", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", and "Let It Go", all past or current Friendly Rivalry Broadway shows. In the final song's case, after being yelled at to stop, he's still compelled to fire out the last line.
      • In some Spanish shows, Zazu launches into Despacito.
    • "The Madness of King Scar". The name seems to be the pun of another famous film also released in 1994.
  • Show Stopper: "Circle of Life" is still this, but both the scene in the gorge and "He Lives in You" also qualify.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


The Madness of King Scar

In "The Lion King" musical, Scar breaks down after becoming king, seeing Mufasa's ghost everywhere and eventually ending up having an argument with himself about whether anyone actually respects him as a ruler.

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Example of:

Main / VillainousBreakdown

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