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Rafikis from around the world come together as "The Lion King" celebrates its 15th anniversary on Broadway

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Rafikis from around the world come together as "The Lion King" celebrates its 15th anniversary on Broadway

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It was quite the night at the Minskoff Theatre last night. As both the creatives and former cast members of Disney's "The Lion King" came together for a one-night-only event which celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Broadway production of this acclaimed musical.

There were lots of tender moments over the course of the evening. Take, for example, what happened just  as "The Circle of Life" was getting underway.  Julie Taymor -- this show's director, costume designer and mask co-designer -- suddenly leaned forward in her aisle seat and gave Thomas Schumacher, the president of the Disney Theatrical  Group (who was seated one row ahead of Taymor) a heartfelt hug. Then -- after letting go of Thomas -- Julie turned and quietly greeted each of the actors in animal costumes as they paraded past her on their way to join the rest of the cast onstage for "The Lion King" 's opening number.

Speaking of Mr. Schumacher: After the curtain call at last night's performance ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... Thomas was joined onstage by Peter Schneider, the former President of Animation and Chairman of the Studio at the Walt Disney Company (who -- back in the 1990s -- had a hand in the creation of not only the full length animated feature version of "The Lion King" but the stage musical version of this property). Schumacher and Schneider first thanked the audience for coming out to this benefit performance for the Actors Fund.

Then Thomas & Peter asked for those folks in the audience who'd had a hand in the creation of this Tony Award-winning stage show to please stand. And among the dozen or so people who stood up at this point were Roger Allers, the co-director of the original animated feature, as well as Sir Tim Rice, the Academy Award-winning lyricist for both the film & stage version of "The Lion King."

Peter Schneider (L) joins Thomas Schumacher onstage to reveal the evening's
surprise piece of entertainment. Photo by Jim Hill

Schumacher & Schneider than asked " ... everyone who (has) touched the Lion King over the past 20 years, please stand up." And given that "The Lion King" is now the fifth longest-running musical in Broadway history and only the second show in history to generate five productions worldwide running 10 or more years ... Well, would it surprise you to hear that over a third of the house at the Minskoff got to their feet at this point in the evening? Which is when this army of talented & dedicated people were showered with cheers and applause.

Speaking of worldwide productions and surprises ... Thomas & Peter announced that -- as a special treat for all those who had come into the city to take part in "The Lion King" 's 15th anniversary on Broadway, the Disney Theatrical Group had one more thing that they wanted to share.

Photo by Heidi Gutman. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

With that, the house lights went down once more and the orchestra in the pit began playing "The Circle of Life" again. Only this time,  Tshidi Manye (i.e, the actress who plays Rafiki in the Broadway production of Disney's "The Lion King") was eventually joined onstage by five other performers dressed as Rafiki. With each of these actresses representing one of the major international productions of this acclaimed musical.

Rafikis from around the world welcome Julie Taymor to the stage of the Minskoff
Theatre so she can then take a solo bow. Photo by Heidi Gutman. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

After a once-in-a-lifetime rendition of this Sir Elton John / Sir Tim Rice ballad, these six Rafikis were then joined  onstage by Julie Taymor. Who took a bow or two before then being joined by the entire cast of the Broadway production of "The Lion King." Who were then led in a powerhouse version of this show's second act opening number, "One by One," by Lebo M, the man who created the signature musical sound of both the animated feature as well as the stage show.

Lebo M & Julie Taymor acknowledge the cheers of the crowd at last night's
performance. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

At this point in the evening, all of the "Lion King" creatives joined Julie, Lebo and the cast onstage for a quick photo op. Then -- after the confetti cannons fired -- the curtain finally came down at the Minskoff Theatre. Where everyone who'd been invited to take part in this 15th anniversary celebration then hiked 10 city blocks over to Gotham Hall.

Photo by Jim Hill

Where the creatives and cast members then all came together for this after-hours party. Where -- over drinks & dinners -- these folks reminisced about what it was like to be associated with / work on such a long running show.

Inside Gotham Hall as the "Lion King" 's 15th
anniversary party got underway.
Photo by Jim Hill

Take -- for example -- the wardrobe mistress that Nancy got to chatting with. Who talked about how challenging it was now to keep Julie Taymor's vision for this stage musical intact.

"Some of the beads & fabrics that Julie originally used when she was designing the costumes & masks for 'The Lion King' are no longer being made. So to stay faithful to all of her ideas, to give this show a consistent look  often takes an awful lot of effort," said this one seamstress who asked that I not use her name. Given that she thinks of everyone who works in costuming at the Broadway version of "The Lion King" as a team, "I mean, I had to walk around this entire city, visiting all sorts of button shops to try and find the beads that we use in Sarabi's corset. But they just don't make those beads anymore. Which is why we had to be extra clever when we came up with a substitute that still fit Julie's idea of how that character's costume should look in the show."

Julie Taymor works with the cast of "The Lion King" as they get ready for the
15th anniversary of this acclaimed Broadway show. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And when you hear about that level of dedication, searching button & bead shops all over New York City just so that a single element of a particular costume in this show looks right ... Well, then you begin to understand why the Broadway production of "The Lion King" has been running for 15 years now. That the folks at Disney Theatrical Group remain committed to maintaining & preserving  Julie Taymor's vision. More to the point, they want to make sure that anyone who buys a ticket for this show at the Minskoff gets the same exact, overwhelmingly theatrical experience that people got back in November of 1997 when they went to the  New Amsterdam (i.e. this musical's first home on Broadway before it then transferred over the Minskoff in June of 2006) right after "The Lion King" initially opened.

So how many of you have already seen "The Lion King" on Broadway? Do you have any special memories of this long-running show to share as it now enters into its 16th year of performances in NYC?

Your thoughts?

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