How ‘The Lion King’ roared into history

Go Lean Commentary

There is money in the ‘Arts’.

One “Broadway” musical play, The Lion King has made $6.21 billion. That is significant. In fact that is a record, according to the foregoing news article:

By: Alison Boshoff

CU Blog - How the Lion King roared into history - Photo 1Title: How The Lion King roared into history: As show is crowned biggest box office earner ever, the secrets of its success emerge

Hakuna Matata!

Sir Elton John has long observed that The Lion King musical ‘is a law unto itself’ — and how so.

After more than a decade of performances in cities all over the world, it was confirmed this week that the stage show is the biggest beast in the jungle.

The Lion King — based on the 1994 Disney film of the same name — has taken more money at the box office than any other production in history.

Since its first night on Broadway in 1997, the show has made more than £3.8 billion ($6.21 billion) in ticket sales alone.

Not only has it conquered the stage, it has massively out-earned every cinema release — including blockbusters such as James Cameron’s Avatar, which took a mere £1.7 billion ($2.78 billion) globally after its 2009 release.

A further fortune has been made in souvenir T-shirts, posters and the rest. At the last count, there were eight different cast recordings of the show’s songs on sale.

Featuring music by Sir Elton John and lyrics by Sir Tim Rice, The Lion King opened in Minneapolis in July 1997 before moving to Broadway in November that year.

CU Blog - How the Lion King roared into history - Photo 2It arrived at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End in October 1999 and currently takes more than £30 million ($49 million) a year in the UK.


The musical tells the story of Simba, a lion cub born on the Serengeti who runs away from his pride when his father Mufasa dies.

Aided by his friends, he must defeat his evil uncle Scar, who engineers Mufasa’s death in a stampede and convinces Simba he was to blame, to reclaim his rightful position as king.


According to music historian Cary Ginell, the musical is a ‘spectacle that satisfies’ on many different levels.

‘For the kids, it’s the visual elements, the colours, the costumes and the puppetry,’ he says. ‘For the adults, it’s Hamlet.’

Many have noted the parallels between Disney’s and Shakespeare’s plots, which both feature a murdered king avenged by his rightful heir.


Disney says that the 22 Lion King productions around the world have been seen by an estimated 75 million people. That’s the entire population of the United Kingdom, plus the population of Belgium.

Last year, it was the highest-grossing musical on the New York stage, and it retains its number-one position so far in 2014. It has always been a sell-out in London.


Disney dipped its toe in the water with a Broadway version of its Oscar-winning Beauty And The Beast before pouring an estimated £6.5 million ($10.62 million) into staging The Lion King — the most expensive show ever staged.


CU Blog - How the Lion King roared into history - Photo 4In a colossal creative gamble, Disney hired Julie Taymor, an avant garde director who had trained in mime in Paris and spent years studying Japanese and Indonesian theatre.

Taymor thought the film ‘superficial’. She said: ‘I had to make The Lion King my own. Otherwise it’s a Disney product and I don’t like the way Disney looks.’


Taymor’s great visual innovation was using puppetry, masks and mechanical headpieces to portray the animals. When the lions cry, they pull rolls of white silk from their masks’ eye holes; the actors playing giraffes walk on stilts.

The drought that ravages the savannah is illustrated by a dwindling waterhole — a circle of silvery material that shrinks as it is pulled across the stage.

There were other changes, too: the stage production has more songs than the film; and Rafiki, the baboon with mystic powers, became a ‘she’, as Taymor felt that the film lacked a leading female character.

CU Blog - How the Lion King roared into history - Photo 3A STAMPEDE FOR SEATS

In the immediate aftermath of its Broadway debut, there were reports of pushy New York parents putting their children’s names down for theatre tickets years in advance.

At one point seats were reselling for up to ten times their face value. Things have since calmed down, but a ticket to the London production costs at least £27.50 ($44.92) a seat.


‘Visually breathtaking,’ said the New York Times. ‘Pure, exhilarating theatre, unlike anything ever seen on Broadway,’ cheered USA Today.

But not everyone was convinced. One critic who saw the show open in London’s West End wrote that once the last Zulu drum had fallen silent, a tiny part of him was left whispering: ‘So what?’

Catch it immediately, he said, thinking it was not destined to run and run. Oops.

And the late, great Sheridan Morley opined: ‘A lot of people say, “This is not real theatre. It’s theatre by way of the movies, or by way of the theme park.” It’s Disneyfication, if you like.’


Celebrities including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Shirley Bassey, model Claudia Schiffer and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell attended the opening night in London.

All said that they had been moved to tears and ovations. Dame Judi said afterwards: ‘I don’t want to be in any play in the future where an elephant doesn’t walk down the aisle.’

But the show has not brought in big-name stars to fill seats, instead relying on talented ensemble casts.


Even though twice as many paying punters have seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running The Phantom Of The Opera, The Lion King’s steeper ticket prices and larger theatres mean its earnings are greater.


Zazu the hornbill’s big musical number, The Morning Report, was cut from the show in 2010, making the show nine minutes shorter.


No one will say how much Sir Elton was paid for licensing his melodies for The Lion King film — such as the hit Can You Feel The Love Tonight — to be used in the stage version.

What can be noted is that pre-Lion King his annual income was said to stand at around £12 million ($19.6 million) a year. More recently, Forbes magazine put it at £48 million ($78.4 million) a year.


Buoyed by The Lion King’s success, Sir Elton was then involved in two musicals: Aida, which had minor success, and Lestat, based on Anne Rice’s gothic novels about an 18th-century nobleman turned vampire. That was a thumping disaster and closed after 39 performances in 2005.

He stepped back into the world of musical theatre that year with the hugely popular Billy Elliot — though he did tell an interviewer in 2011: ‘Just between you, me and the gatepost, I’m not really a lover of musicals.’


The show is completed by the music of South African composer Lebo M, who was exiled to America in 1979 after student riots in Soweto.

He told the South Bank Show: ‘The Lion King is not necessarily political, but I could relate to the life of Simba, a young cub who grows up in exile and goes back to fight for his country.’
The Daily Mail – London’s Daily Newspaper (Posted September 23, 2014) –

This news story aligns with the book Go Lean…Caribbean in stressing the economic impact of artistic and entertainment endeavors. The book asserts that Caribbean society can be elevated by improving the eco-system to live, work and play. Broadway-style theatrical productions come under the category of “play”.

The book Go Lean…Caribbean strives to accomplish this elevation vision by serving as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). There is a lot involved in this vision; the prime directives are stated as follows:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

“Art imitates Life and Life imitates Art” – Literary expression.

There is another message from this commentary/blog, that one person, a role model, can make a difference in transforming society. The Go Lean roadmap stresses the mission of creating jobs in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM), but it also recognizes that many people show ‘genius qualifiers’ in unrelated areas: music, visual arts, performing arts, sports and theatrical endeavors. This point is pronounced early in the following statements in the book’s Declaration of Interdependence (Page 14):

xxi. Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

xxxii. Whereas the cultural arts and music of the region are germane to the quality of Caribbean life, and the international appreciation of Caribbean life, the Federation must implement the support systems to teach, encourage, incentivize, monetize and promote the related industries for arts and music in domestic and foreign markets. These endeavors will make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play.

There are economic and image considerations with this subject. The Go Lean book accepts that “show business” can have an impact on society and the world, as also depicted in the foregoing article. Already, this commentary has analyzed the Broadway play “Motown, The Musical” and contributions of role model Berry Gordy.

The Go Lean roadmap accepts that change has come to “show business” (Music, Film, Visual Art and Theater). This is due mostly to the convergence of technology (the internet to be exact). The book posits that [market] “size no longer matters”, that content can be created in any location in the world and then distributed to an appreciative audience anywhere. The first requirement is the community ethos of valuing Intellectual Property. This ethos would be new, a change, for the Caribbean.

Today, most Intellectual Property is consumed digitally with a lot of retailing via the World-Wide-Web. This changed landscape now requires new tools and protections, like electronic payment systems, digital rights management and Performance Rights Organizations. The Go Lean/CU roadmap details these solutions. With these efforts and investments, the returns will be undeniable.

To harvest these investment returns, there is the need for some technocratic facilitations. The book posits that this burden is too big for any one Caribbean member-state, and thus the collaboration efforts of the CU is necessary, as the strategy is to confederate all the 30 member-states of the Caribbean despite their language and legacy, into an integrated “single market”. This will allow for better leverage of the consumer market for the consumption of media.

The CU is designed to do the heavy-lifting of organizing Caribbean society. The following list details the ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster a similar successful path like The Lion King on the world stage:

Community Ethos – Forging Change Page 20
Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Return on Investments Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius Page 27
Community Ethos – Help Entrepreneurship Page 28
Community Ethos – Promote Intellectual Property Page 29
Anecdote – Valedictorian Experience Page 38
Strategy – Strategy – Caribbean Vision Page 45
Strategy – Agents of Change – Globalization Page 57
Separation of Powers – Central Bank – Electronic Payment Deployments Page 73
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Patents & Copyrights Office Page 78
Separation of Powers – Culture Administration Page 81
Planning – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Planning – Lessons Learned from New York City Page 137
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Education – Performing Arts Schools Page 159
Advocacy – Reforms for Banking Regulations Page 199
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Hollywood Page 203
Advocacy – Ways to Improve the Arts Page 230
Advocacy – Ways to Promote Music Page 231
Advocacy – Impact Urban Living – Art & Theaters Page 234
Appendix – New York / Broadway / Theater Jobs Page 277
Appendix – Caribbean Music Genres Page 347
Appendix – Protecting Music Copyrights Page 351

Considering the experience of Julie Taymor in the foregoing article, the Go Lean roadmap asserts that one man, or woman, can make a difference in the quest to elevate Caribbean society. We want to foster any ‘genius qualifiers’ found within the region. This refers to “on stage/on camera” talent and behind-the-scenes talent, like Ms. Taymor.

The Go Lean/CU roadmap represents the change that has come to the Caribbean. The people, institutions and governance of the region are all urged to “lean-in” to this roadmap for change. We know there is a “new” Julie Taymor somewhere in the Caribbean member-states, waiting to be fostered.

This will not be the first time a Caribbean artist has impacted the world with his/her artistic contributions. We have the proud legacy of Bob Marley and his musical genius. His songs are sung and hummed around the world:

i.e. Song: One Love – “Let’s get together and feel alright”

He is so recognizable that he is considered an icon.

The movie and Broadway play, The Lion King, is also iconic… and impactful. Consider the experience of this “Cast” flash-mob / song-and-dance depicted in this video:

THE LION KING Australia: Cast Sings Circle of Life on Flight Home from Brisbane

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

Share this post:
, , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *