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Tune Thursday: Disney’s “The Lion King” gets ready to roar in Las Vegas

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Tune Thursday: Disney’s “The Lion King” gets ready to roar in Las Vegas

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Given the high number of recent Broadway hits (i.e. “Avenue Q,” “Hairspray,” “The Producers,” “Monty Python's Spamelot”) that have had less than stellar runs in Las Vegas, it’s very tempting to say Disney Theatrical is taking a gamble by creating a new sit-down production of  “The Lion King” for the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Lion King Las Vegas Nevada
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But Deborah Warren, the publicist in charge of this particular production, really doesn’t see it that way. “It’s not like Disney Theatrical hasn’t ever been to Vegas before,” she explained. “Our touring companies of ‘Beauty & the Beast’ and ‘High School Musical’ came through town a while back. So we’re aware of how this town works.”

Which – in this case – means making some pretty significant adjustments to “The Lion King” ‘s typical performance schedule. Take – for example – the company’s day off. Most Broadway performers are used to getting Monday nights off. Whereas in Las Vegas, Friday is traditionally the night when shows go dark.Then there’s the whole issue with matinees. Which – in NYC –  typically get underway at 2 p.m. Whereas in Sin City, matinees start at 4 p.m.

And then there are the challenges of Vegas throat. Which is what happens to a performer’s pipes when they walk out of a highly air conditioned environment right into 110 degrees of dry desert heat.

But the cast that Disney Theatrical has assembled for the Las Vegas version of “The Lion King” are more than up for these challenges. If anything, Warren believes that the group of performers that have been assembled for this new sit-down production may be the strongest yet.

Buyi Zama from the Las Vegas company of "The Lion King."
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“We’ve brought Broadway’s Nala out to help open this show,” Deborah said. “And our Simba appeared in LA’s production of ‘The Lion King.’ Our Rafiki performed in the South African & Australian version of this show. So we’re really talking the best of the best here.”

As for this show’s physical production, Disney Theatrical isn’t stinting there either. “We’ve worked hard to protect the artistic integrity of Julie Taymor’s original vision for this show. So -- just like in the Broadway version – Pride Rock rises straight up out of the stage. And we’ve got this amazing South African singers who really make Elton John’s music soar.”

Mind you, there some corners cut on the Las Vegas production of “The Lion King.” And by that I mean the hotel staff had to remove a few railings near the entrance of the Mandalay Bay Theatre. Why For? So that Big Bertha (i.e. the 11-foot-tall elephant puppet that “walks” up the theater’s main aisle as “The Circle of Life” is being performed) would then actually be able to fit through this theater’s front doors.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But as for the rest of this Disney Theatrical production, no expense was spared. Take – for example – that Broadway-style marquee that was just erected outside of the entrance to the theater where "The Lion King' is being presented.

“The folks at the Resort did that all on their own,” Warren continued. “They wanted to properly set the scene for this acclaimed Broadway musical. Which is why Disney Theatrical is very pleased with its partnership with the Mandalay Bay Resort.”

Again – I know – there are those folks who might be a bit little leery about the idea of Disney being in Las Vegas. But Deborah isn’t among them.

Mandalay Bay Aquarium Las Vegas Nevada
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is just one of the kid-friendly attractions found at this Las Vegas Resort.
Copyright MGM Mirage. All Rights Reserved

“You have to understand that Mandalay Bay approached us last August. They were looking for a show to replace their long-running production of ‘Mamma Mia,’ “ she continued. “So Disney Theatrical sent some reps out to check out the theater – which is actually bigger than the stage that ‘The Lion King' is now being performed on on Broadway, by the way. Anyway, while walking around this resort, we saw the large number of families who stay at Mandalay Bay. Which is when we realized that ‘The Lion King’ would be a great fit for this Resort.”

Mandalay Bay officials clearly has high expectations for this production. Given that the Resort has just built this enormous “Lion King” themed retail space right next door to the theater. Which is where execs hope that Vegas visitors who have just been wowed by this acclaimed Broadway musical will then stock up on “Lion King” t-shirts, baseball hats and coffee mugs.

Getting back to Ms. Warren now … As she rattled off the stats associated with this show (EX: “This version of the show has the same number of people playing in the pit as we do back on Broadway. Which means that we have the largest orchestra now playing in Las Vegas”), Deborah doesn't sound like some publicist just doing her job. She's clearly a woman who's proud to be associated with this new sit-down production of “The Lion King.”

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“I’ve worked on a number of shows over the years,” Warren stated. “But I’ve never been part of the creation of a new production like this before. Which will be just as effective, just as impressive as the Broadway original.”

Previews are now underway at the Mandalay Bay Theater. For further information on the Las Vegas version of Disney's “The Lion King” (including performance times & ticket prices), please click on this link.

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