How do you dust off an iconic film beloved by adults and children around the world? Turn it into a limited-run live event and call on some of Hollywood and Broadway’s biggest names to narrate the story. That’s what the Marsha Jackson-Randolph, Disney’s Animal Kingdom show director did as a celebratory toast to the 20th anniversary of The Lion King.
To be clear, anyone who visits Animal Kingdom can watch the Festival of The Lion King, a truncated live retelling of young Simba’s journey to become a lion. But this summer, the experience was expanded to include celebrity narrators, a 20-piece orchestra, 16 voice choir and eight dancers. The revamped show, The Lion King: Concert in the Wild, plays on Saturday’s only and goes until August 9. The remaining celebrity narrators include Scandal’s Joe Morton (July 19); Alfre Woodard (July 26); Tony Award winners Brian Stokes Mitchell (August 2) and Patina Miller (August 9). “These are brilliant theatre artists, who have a passion for storytelling,” says Jackson-Randolph. “They become the voice of the story. That’s the excitement of this show. It goes beyond the experience of the movie and gets to the heart of the drum and all of the things that begin to move us.”
Movement, that’s another element reimagined for the anniversary production. Tony nominated producer Warren Adams, who served as the show’s stage director, drew from personal experience as he shaped the show’s choreography. “I’m South African, born and raised,” says Adams. “When Marsha and I originally spoke of [developing this stage experience], she was interested in the authenticity of the ‘South Africanism,’ so I drew from my history, my culture and so forth.”
Coming into the story, especially one so cherished, had its own set of restraints. But Adams and Jackson-Randolph took on the challenge with pride. “It’s hard to get people excited about something they already know, but it’s a completely different take on the story—its interwoven the film, dance and the narration. Watching all those different things come together is quite exciting.”
The experience doesn’t end when the curtain comes down. Audiences are invited to the Harambe Nights, an all inclusive after party with African inspired food, drinks and desserts, set against a backdrop of live music and special appearances from Mickey & Minnie (aptly drapped in kente cloth) in the “streets” of Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Village. [WRITER NOTE: The seared lamb chops with tamarind pomegranate sauce are worth the ticket price alone. #delish]
So whether it’s your first or 50th time, any way you experience The Lion King, the story never gets old. “We are all trying to find our place and what Simba finds at the end of the story is his rightful place,” says Jackson-Randolph. “That speaks to generations of audiences.” Adams agrees: “It’s a great story: It’s about love, there’s tragedy, so you have your drama. There’s the father and son relationship, the Nala-Simba relationship and then there’s the community. We are all at some point apart of a good community.”
The Lion King: Concert in the Wild special performances ends August 9.