The Lion King Roars for 16 Years on Broadway's Pride RockJanuary 16, 2014 - by Melanie Baker
A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king. These prophetic words from Mufasa, king of the Pridelands and father to lion cub Simba, set the tone for the timeless plot of Broadway’s The Lion King. Yet while the coterie of anthropomorphic characters -- from the lions of Pride Rock to the soaring birds and sprightly antelopes -- live, grow, and embrace “The Circle of Life,” the musical itself shows no signs of succumbing to a setting sun as it enjoys its 17th year on Broadway.
Indeed, even after the 15th anniversary celebration last November, Lion King audiences are finding the pulse of the Pridelands stronger than ever, with sell-out houses a regular occurrence.
The Lion King, adapted for the stage from the 1994 smash Disney film and unforgettable score by Elton John and Tim Rice, broaches the painful reality of losing a parent when young Simba witnesses Mufasa’s murder at the hands of the greedy, invidious Scar, Mufasa’s brother and Simba’s uncle. The story loosely parallels Shakespeare’s Hamlet as Simba vows to avenge his father’s untimely death, but veers away from total tragedy as revenge gives way to friendship—via tried-and-true cohorts meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa—and love in the form of the enchanting lioness Nala.
Chantel Riley (above), who fiercely embodies the role of Nala at each performance, is elated to represent The Lion King during its historic anniversary. “The Lion King is one of my favorite Disney films. When I was younger, I always wanted to be Nala—I would think of how beautiful and strong she was. To actually be playing this role after watching it over a million times as a kid is a dream come true,” says Riley, adding, “It is truly an honor and huge blessing to have become part of this show [during] such a big milestone...”
And even though Riley is new to the cast, she’s been well briefed on the history of the show’s run. “Throughout the years, there have been scenes that have been removed and even put back in,” she says. “It’s a great way to keep the show as fresh as it is now.”
As the production moves full-tilt past its “sweet sixteen,” the vivacity and fervor put forth by the cast and crew is palpable, from the earth-shaking and harmonious African chants that strike audiences to the core to the trailblazing aesthetics—masks, costumes, and awe-inspiring set pieces that catapulted fearless director and designer Julie Taymor and her brood to clean house at the 1998 Tony Awards.
Bonita J. Hamilton (right) who portrays the scheming hyena Shenzi—a character that is “knee-deep in mischief”—finds that the musical’s positive message is what resonates most. “Living the experience of echoing a story permeated with love, honor and devotion eight times a week can never get old,” she concludes.
The Lion King is playing at the Minskoff Theatre, 200 W. 45th St. For tickets, call 866-870-2717 or click here.