Disney’s The Lion King is heading back down under, and there’s no wonder – it’s a sure fire success, or so says NSW Minister for the Arts, George Souris.
After running nearly two years and playing to 1.35 million patrons at the Capital Theatre, Sydney from 2003-2005, The Lion King can truly be described as a blockbuster musical, and now a new generation of audiences will have the opportunity to witness the magic of Julie Taymor’s groundbreaking production first hand.
“Why Lion King? Why not bring out a new musical that we haven’t seen before?” a member of the press asked Disney Theatrical President, Thomas Schumacher today via satellite hookup to New York City.
The answer from Schumacher, who has been working with the Lion King brand every day for the last 21 years, was simple:
“We do have to be mindful of the fact that ‘new’ doesn’t mean better”, he said.
“The Lion King; there is such a demand for it. I can tell you, having worked on it for this long, there’s huge response to it and there’s huge desire for it. What you might perceive as something that isn’t ‘new’ it’s still going to be new for the audience who are seeing it for the first time”.
And if the past figures are anything to go by, there will be plenty who will want to see this show. It’s tried and tested, having taken over $120 million in box office sales last season with an expected patronage of 500, 000 for this short (by Lion King terms) 8 month season.
In true music theatre style, the official announcement today comes nearly 2 years in advance of the show’s scheduled opening date: December 2013. And while there are no “fixed plans” to tour the show, Schumacher did concede that other cities in Australia may see the show after the scheduled 8 month run at the Capitol is done.
“We are only making this plan now for Sydney” said Schumacher. “It’s logical, that once I have something as gigantic as Lion King in Australia that will be seen in other cities. But the plan is not fixed yet”.
As with each of the 19 productions of The Lion King around the world, director Julie Taymor will supervise this Australian season.
“There is a team of people who put The Lion King together, but it is always blessed and in fact finished off by Julie”, explained Schumacher. “Julie Taymor is an extraordinary artist of our time, and a brilliant theatre maker.”
(Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute is currently playing at the Opera House, presented by the Australian Opera, with her signature puppetry and elaborate staging).
It is understood that the cast of this Lion King will be “truly international”.
“Casting The Lion King is a very specific and special thing. In Australia, the cast is truly international – with many people from Australia. Of course there is always a component of beautiful, brilliant South African performers in the show. But one thing we did differently last time in Australia, and I hope we can do it again, is also include Maori people in the show”, said Schumacher today.
His aim is to build this Lion King around an Australian cast, peppered with an international company, but not for some time yet.
“We will begin the casting process when we can actually line everybody up”, he said.
While some may be concerned for Sydney’s independent music theatre scene that yet another blockbuster is storming into town, Schumacher believes that the arrival of something as accessible as The Lion King can open up the minds of non-theatre going folk to the possibilities of live productions.
“Sydney has such a brilliant theatre community” said Schumacher. “Good theatre begets good theatre. If you see something you love, I think it makes you want to see something else. It helps people build a theatrical community.”
Schumacher did let slide during today’s press conference that The Lion King won’t be the only Disney production to grace our shores in the coming years.
“We just did Mary Poppins, Lion King is coming, and there will be more Disney productions coming”, he said.
Newsies? The Little Mermaid?
For now, let’s be thrilled that another wonderful, accessible production is heading our way, creating jobs for hundreds of people in the arts and exposing a new generation to the magic of theatre.
As Schumacher said, The Lion King is a family show.
Let’s just hope the ticket prices are family friendly.