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The History of The Lion King & Its Impact on American Theater

The Lion King musical is currently Broadway’s 3rd longest running Broadway show, but that alone is not what makes this a fantastic experience that has shaped the world of contemporary theater. Although this musical is based off of the 1994 movie The Lion King, the way that it is brought to life on stage with dance, choreography, live stage performance, and music written by Elton John is what really brings this story to life compared to the film.

Premiering for the first time on July 8th, 1997 in Minneapolis at the Orpheum theater, the Lion King quickly moved to The New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway just three months later where it was met with almost instant success and an eager fandom.

With the stage production turning 24 at the end of 2021, it along with its talented crew over the years have collected a number of valuable awards that indicate how large the show has grown. The production itself has won the 2008 Molière Award for Best Musical, as well as the 2004 Helpmann and 1998 Tony Awards for Best Musical, while the cast and crew of The Lion King have won at least 21 different awards from the Helpmann Award for Best Choreography in a Musical, to the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Costume Design. And that is not counting the sheer amount of award nominations they have received over the years either.

After almost 9 years of quality performances at The New Amsterdam Theater, the musical production was moved to the Minskoff Theater where, after over 9,000 performances, it is still going strong up to this day.

The introduction of life-sized animal puppets, amazing musical scores, and vivid, expressive dance and choreography mixed with African rhythm, wardrobe, and Western music changed the very nature of theater and how performative arts can tell stories.

As a result of the ingenuity and creativity that went into this production, as well as being the 3rd longest lasting Broadway production, it is also the highest grossing box office title in any medium or genre, making The Lion King the true king of entertainment. In its history, this amazing piece of musical theater has grossed over $8.1 billion globally as it has travelled the world. For comparison, the 2009 movie Avatar, the largest grossing film, only produced around $2.8 billion.

Outside of financial figures though, The Lion King also did right by Broadway theater. Back when the production moved to The New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd street, the area was completely different with a darker aura and a less-than-savory appeal, far from the family-friendly environment that it is today. Even the theater itself was more a ruin than an entertainment venue.

The Walt Disney Company was one of the main participants in a city-building initiative focused on improving 42nd Street’s block and surrounding area, something that The Lion King played a considerable role in by generating revenue, attracting large crowds of families to stimulate the local economy and a family-friendly environment, and by adding the sense of top quality show business and class to the area that only talent can bring.

42nd Street along with Times Square would not be what they are today without this stunning musical, and as long as The Lion King continues to bring in people passionate about the performing arts, we can rest assured that Broadway is safe, even after a global pandemic.


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