The Lion King

Everything you need to know about 'The Lion King' on Broadway

Get ready to take your place in the circle of life by learning all about the Tony-winning The Lion King on Broadway.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Be prepared to check out The Lion King, Broadway's wildly popular and third-longest-running show. The Disney film captured the emotions of countless audiences upon its premiere in 1994, and the musical adaptation did the same just three years later. The Lion King musical faithfully retains all the hit songs from the film, like "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?," "Hakuna Matata," and "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," but the show also creates a wholly unique visual experience of its own, bringing the wildlife of the Pride Lands to life with life-size carved puppets that the actors wear.

The plot of The Lion King movie, of course, also remains intact for the musical: The young lion cub Simba is destined to become King of the Pride Lands one day, but when his evil uncle Scar usurps the throne and Simba is left on his own, he has to find in himself the qualities of true royalty that will let him retake his rightful place. Whether you first fell in love with the story of Simba as a young cub or as an adult, you'll feel the love tonight when you see The Lion King's family-centered story and eye-catching spectacle.

Get The Lion King tickets now.

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What is The Lion King about?

The Lion King opens with the birth of Simba to King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, who rule the African Pride Lands. As Simba grows into a feisty cub, Mufasa explains to Simba that he'll one day take over the throne of the Pride Lands, but warns him to stay away from the shadowy area behind the Pride Lands. That happens to be the home of Scar, Mufasa's bitter brother who wants the Pride Lands throne for himself. He plans to kill Mufasa and Simba in order to steal the line of succession.

He puts his plan into motion when the over-curious Simba goes to visit him outside the Pride Lands, where Scar encourages Simba to explore even more forbidden territory — an elephant graveyard — against Mufasa's wishes. While Simba's in the graveyard, Scar lures Mufasa there just as he's striking up a stampede. Mufasa is killed, but Simba escapes and ends up coming of age in a jungle, where his new friends Timon and Pumbaa teach him a carefree lifestyle. Eventually, though, Simba has to find his strength and return to the Pride Lands to challenge his uncle and take his rightful place on the throne.

Where is The Lion King playing?

The Lion King is at the Minskoff Theatre. The theatre is located at 200 West 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The musical started its run at the New Amsterdam Theatre, but moved to the Minskoff so Mary Poppins could take the New Amsterdam. The Minskoff has also hosted other long-running shows in the 1980s and 90s, like West Side Story and Sunset Boulevard.

How long is The Lion King?

The Lion King runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. This is a typical length for a Broadway musical, though musicals can run anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours. Intermissions are usually either 15 or 20 minutes long.

What days is The Lion King playing?

The Lion King plays eight performances a week at the Minskoff Theatre, with performances usually scheduled every day except Monday. There are two performances on Saturdays and Sundays. For the complete performance schedule and show times, please visit the The Lion King page to learn more. 

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When did The Lion King premiere?

The story of The Lion King truly begins centuries ago, as the biblical stories of Joseph and Moses, along with Shakespeare's Hamlet, inspired the plot of the Disney film. But it was the late 1980s when the creators began to develop that film — which almost wasn't musical at all — kicking off a bestselling franchise of which the musical is just one part.

  • 1988: Development for The Lion King movie begins. Much of the creative team was different, with George Scribner as director and Thomas M. Disch as the first screenwriter. Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton (who wrote the first official The Lion King script after Disch's treatment) wrote the final screenplay, and Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff replaced Scribner as director, marking their feature-film directorial debuts. Scribner left the project because he didn't want The Lion King to be a musical movie.
  • 1994: The Lion King film premieres to critical acclaim. The movie would go on to become the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time. It was also the second-highest-grossing film of all time and the highest-grossing animated film of all time for a few years.
  • 1997: The Lion King musical premieres on Broadway, just three years after the film's release. Julie Taymor directed, in addition to costume designing and writing some new music for the musical adaptation. The Lion King had its official opening at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13, 1997, and remains one of the longest-running Broadway musicals.
  • 1999 The Lion King opens at the Lyceum Theatre in London's West End and is still running there.
  • 2002: The Lion King launches its first U.S. national tour in April. The tour ran through July 2017.
  • 2003: The second national tour launches, beginning in April and running to March 2008.
  • 2006: The Lion King Broadway production moves from the New Amsterdam Theatre to its current home at the Minskoff Theatre.
  • 2007: The Lion King premieres in Johannesburg, South Africa. This production marked the time the musical was performed in Africa, where the movie and musical are set. All 53 cast members were South African.
  • 2017: The third U.S. national tour began. It is currently running.
  • 2018: The first international tour of The Lion King began. The tour kicked off in the Philippines and is traveling to Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

Who wrote The Lion King?

The Lion King film features a screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton; original songs composed by Elton John, and lyrics by Tim Rice. Hans Zimmer composed the film score. The Lion King musical also features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, as most of their songs from the film are used in the musical. The Lion King musical also features a book by Mecchi and Roger Allers, and additional music and lyrics by Zimmer, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, and director Julie Taymor.

The Lion King characters

The Lion King characters all have a designated place in the circle of life, either as part of the Pride Lands kingdom or its mysterious outskirts. Here are the principal characters in The Lion King.

  • Simba: Mufasa's son and the successor to his throne as king of the Pride Lands.
  • Nala: a lioness and Simba's childhood friend, who he later falls in love with
  • Scar: Simba's uncle and Mufasa's brother. He lives just outside the Pride Lands, in the Shadowlands, and wants the throne of the Pride Lands for himself.
  • Rafiki: a female mandrill who narrates the story. In the original film, Rafiki is a male role.
  • Mufasa: The King of the Pride Lands. He is Simba's father and plans to raise him to be king someday.
  • Sarabi: The Queen of the Pride Lands, she is Simba's mother and Mufasa's wife.
  • Timon: a meerkat who becomes friends with Simba after he runs away from the Pride Lands. Simba ends up growing up alongside Timon and Pumbaa in the jungle.
  • Pumbaa: a warthog who becomes friends with Simba. 
  • Zazu: a hornbill and Mufasa's advisor. He's also tasked with keeping an eye on Simba as a child, much to Simba's chagrin.
  • Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed: hyenas that serve as Scar's minions.

The Lion King songs

Most of the songs in The Lion King musical first appeared in the 1994 film before being adapted for the stage. However, the musical features additional songs not seen in the film. Among them are "Shadowland," "Endless Night," and "One by One," which originally appeared on Rhythm of the Pride Lands, a companion CD to The Lion King film. The former two were sung in Zulu on that CD and received new English lyrics for the musical. Additionally, a song called "The Morning Report" was added for the musical and cut in 2010, and more songs were added and are still part of the show. Amid all these changes, though, famous songs like "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata" remain. Here are all the songs in The Lion King musical.

Act I

  • "Circle of Life"
  • "Grasslands Chant"
  • "The Lioness Hunt"
  • "I Just Can't Wait to Be King"
  • "Chow Down"
  • "They Live in You"
  • "Be Prepared"
  • "The Stampede"
  • "Rafiki Mourns"
  • "Hakuna Matata"

Act II

  • "One by One"
  • "The Madness of King Scar"
  • "Shadowland"
  • "Endless Night"
  • "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"
  • "He Lives in You"
  • "Simba Confronts Scar"
  • "King of Pride Rock/Circle of Life (Reprise)"

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What awards has The Lion King won?

The Lion King musical has won dozens of prizes on Broadway and beyond at major theatre awards ceremonies all across the globe. Here are the major awards The Lion King has won.

  • Tony Awards: The Lion King won 6 Tony Awards out of its 11 nominations in 1998: Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Lighting Design.
  • Drama Desk Awards: The Lion King won 8 Drama Desk Awards out of 12 nominations in 1998, including the awards for Outstanding Set, Costume, Lighting, Sound, and Puppet Design. Julie Taymor and Garth Fagan won for Outstanding Director and Choreography, respectively, and Tsidii Le Loka won the Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical award.
  • Olivier Awards: Fagan and Taymor won the Best Theatre Choreographer and Best Costume Design Awards, respectively, for the original London The Lion King London production in 1999. The show received an additional six nominations, including Best New Musical.
  • Helpmann Awards: At the 2004 Helpmann Awards, the original Australian production won Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography in a Musical, and Best Costume Design, and received seven additional nominations.
  • Molière Awards: The original French production of The Lion King won Best Musical, Best Costume Design, and Best Lighting Design at the 2008 Molière Awards, the French equivalent of the Tonys.

In addition, the original The Lion King film had previously won two Academy Awards: for Best Original Score (for Hans Zimmer) and Best Original Song for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." The film won these same awards at the Golden Globes, as well as the award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.

Major productions of The Lion King

The Lion King has been performed in numerous countries on six continents, beginning with the New York premiere and going on to multi-year runs across the globe. Below are some of the major productions of The Lion King musical worldwide.

  • 1997 Minnesota production: The Lion King musical had its world premiere pre-Broadway run at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
  • 1997 Broadway production: The Broadway premiere of The Lion King opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre in 1997, and the production transferred to the Minskoff in 2006. The production celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2022, is the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time, and is the third-longest-running Broadway show of all time.
  • 1999 West End production: The Lion King is still running in London's West End more than 20 years after its premiere at the Lyceum Theatre. It is the eighth-longest-running West End show of all time.
  • 2002 national tour: The first U.S. national tour of The Lion King ran from April 2002 to July 2017.
  • 2003 national tour: The second national tour ran from April 2003 to March 2008.
  • 2003 Australian production: The Australian premiere of The Lion King ran from October 2003 to June 2005 and won multiple awards.
  • 2007 French production: The French premiere of The Lion King ran for just under three years and won multiple awards. A French revival opened at the same theatre, Théâtre Mogador, in 2021.
  • 2007 South African production: The 2007 production in Johannesburg, South Africa, which closed in February 2008, was the first production of The Lion King musical in Africa. All 53 cast members were South African.
  • 2017 national tour: The third U.S. national tour began in 2017 and is currently running.
  • 2018 international tour: The first international tour of The Lion King began in the Philippines and has stops in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

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Celebrities who have performed in The Lion King

The Lion King has cast many well-known actors in the theatre scene, including Olivier nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (in the second national tour), Olivier winner Sharon D Clarke (in the West End production), and Tony and Grammy winner Heather Headley (in the original Broadway cast). However, many of the most widely recognizable celebrities attached to The Lion King have appeared in its film versions. Below are the celebrities who have voice-acted in The Lion King films.

  • Matthew Broderick: The two-time Tony Award winner voiced Simba in the 1994 The Lion King film.
  • James Earl Jones: Stage and screen legend James Earl Jones, who is getting Broadway's Cort Theatre named for him, voiced Mufasa in both the original 1994 movie and the 2019 remake.
  • Whoopi Goldberg: Goldberg, one of the 16 people to have the EGOT distinction (having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award), voiced Shenzi in the 1994 movie.
  • Beyoncé: The 28-time Grammy Award-winning singer voiced Nala in the 2019 The Lion King movie.
  • Nathan Lane: Three-time Tony-winning Broadway favorite Nathan Lane voiced Timon in the 1994 movie.
  • Donald Glover: The Community star and rapper, also known as Childish Gambino, voiced Simba in the 2019 movie.

Onscreen adaptations of The Lion King

The Lion King musical isn't the original basis for a film; rather, it's the other way around. The musical was adapted from the hit Disney movie, which won two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. The movie has two sequels, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and The Lion King 1½, as well as two TV series spinoffs, though material from these is not part of The Lion King Broadway musical. Here are the The Lion King films that share a plot with the Disney musical adaptation.

  • 1994: The 1994 The Lion King film is the one that started it all, spawning multiple sequels, spinoffs, and, of course, the 1997 Broadway musical. The movie boasts a starry cast of voice actors, including Matthew Broderick as Simba, Nathan Lane as Timon, Whoopi Goldberg as Shenzi, and famously, James Earl Jones as Mufasa. The Lion King remains the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time and the bestselling film on home video.
  • 2019: The Lion King received a "live-action" remake in 2019. The lions look photorealistic, but everything was actually computer-animated. Though reviews were mixed, the film was a box office smash and overtook Frozen to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time. James Earl Jones reprised his role as the voice of Mufasa, and the cast also includes Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, Billy Eichner as Timon, John Oliver as Zazu, and Keegan-Michael Key as Kamari. A sequel is in development.

Fun facts about The Lion King

Having been in performances for 25 years, The Lion King has a storied history. Backstage rituals and the life-size puppets have become famous in their own right. Learn about all this and more with these The Lion King fun facts.

  • The role of Rafiki was originally male in the 1994 film. However, director Julie Taymor made Rafiki female for the musical because she didn't believe the film had a true leading female role, and she wanted to create one.
  • In September 2014, The Lion King surpassed The Phantom of the Opera to become the highest-grossing Broadway musical of all time, a record it still holds.
  • The show's dialogue and lyrics incorporate six indigenous African languages. They are Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, and Congolese. The famous opening lyrics of "Circle of Life," for example, are in Swahili: "Nants ingonyama bagithi baba / Sithi uhm ingonyama."
  • All the costumes are handmade, which requires tons of material and time. The leather chaps that Scar wears take 111 hours to quilt, and Simba's and Nala's corsets require a total of 2,135 million beads. Mufasa's cape alone requires 12 yards of fabric.
  • The puppets — which aren't like mascot costumes, but are incorporated into the actors' costumes and show their faces — are also hand-built, and it took 37,000 hours to make all 232 of them used in the show. The puppets encompass 25 different animal species and range from 5 inches to 18 feet tall. Naturally, the tallest ones are the giraffes.
  • The four children who play young Simba and Nala have a special pre-show ritual that they carry out in February. As February is Black History Month, they tell Bonita J. Hamilton, who plays Shenzi, a fact about a Black historical figure before each performance. Hamilton has led the ritual for 17 years with the various children that have assumed the roles.

How to get The Lion King tickets

Whether you're a longtime fan of the classic Disney movie, a parent looking for family-friendly entertainment, or someone of any age looking for a stunning spectacle that'll bring you no worries for the rest of your days (or at least a few hours), you'll find your place in the circle of life at The Lion King. Now that you know all about the show, the best way to be prepared to go is by securing your tickets.

The Lion King tickets are available now. Get tickets to The Lion King on New York Theatre Guide today.

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Originally published on

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