Twenty-five years ago, the sun rose on Broadway’s Pride Lands. Since the first notes of composer Lebo M’s Zulu chant in “Circle of Life” rang out and dancers costumed as birds and zebras twirled and leaped onto the stage in Tony winner Garth Fagan’s choreography, audiences have been enchanted with the spectacle of Disney’s The Lion King.
The show opened November 13, 1997, and has since been seen by more than 110 million audience members across the globe. Directed by Julie Taymor, and featuring a score with songs by Elton John and Tim and additional musical material by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Taymor and Hans Zimmer, the Disney stage musical is currently Broadway’s third longest-running show.
Composer Lebo and choreographer Fagan also hold their own record; they are the longest-running Black composer and choreographer in Broadway history. Playbill spoke with Lebo and Fagan about their work on the groundbreaking musical.
On creative collaboration:
Lebo M: In one room, Julie expresses a vision; Garth makes a movement; and I write music in my head. The music becomes the spirit that drives the storyline and the great choreography by Garth Fagan that meets the music allows the characters to shine. It all comes together to one big, beautiful experience.
Fagan: It was a very collaborative effort. First of all, Julie Taymor is brilliant and knew what she wanted. And Lebo came up with the most beautiful music. He stayed in the room and worked with me with the dance steps and the dance moves.
On the uniqueness of The Lion King:
Lebo M: Me and Mark Mancina had a brilliant idea…we were going to do research and watch as many Broadway shows as we can. And I remember very distinctly, we went to one show and at intermission we looked at each other and we left, because we knew instinctively that the Lion King that Julie was visualizing was not going to be the Broadway norm.
Fagan: I was just so excited. I knew that I did not want to do anything like you had seen on Broadway before. You know, twist, turn, shake your ass—that kind of stuff. I wanted to put some concert dance into it.
On what resonates with the audience:
Lebo M: I think it’s a lot of great elements, but the key to all of it, the tie that binds it all is the storyline. People from all aspects of life can relate to the journey of the characters.
Fagan: It’s just fresh, you know. It’s very fresh.
On the legacy of The Lion King
Lebo M: I think the legacy is beyond a spectacular presentation. The legacy is the impact it has had in touching human beings.
Fagan: It gives to people a sense of family…that family is important and family has to be nourished and kept alive. That’s such a good feeling.