Everyone knows The Lion King, the beloved tale of Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa and more. Based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Simba is destined to follow in his father Mufasa’s paw steps as the next King of the Pride Lands, if his evil and spiteful Uncle Scar doesn’t get in the way. As a young and self-exiled cub, Simba runs away shortly after the death of his father, encountering many friends, adventures and obstacles on his way to becoming king.
The animated feature film has made close to a billion dollars since its release in 1994 and has won multiple Academy Awards and Golden Globes. It is currently rated as the world’s sixth highest grossing animated film of all time and the 29th highest grossing film in any genre. In terms of packing the theaters, The Lion King is considered the top animated film of the past 50 years.
The Lion King was so popular, in fact, that in 1997, Disney made a spin-off of its famous movie and introduced a musical version of the show. It premiered on Broadway on October 15, 1997, and, some 6700 performances later, is still running today. This makes The Lion King the third longest-running Broadway show ever, as well as the most successful and highest-grossing (at over a billion dollars) Broadway production of all time. Like its cinematic counterpart, the musical has won many awards, including a Tony for Best Musical.
Following the same storyline as the animated classic, the musical version provides a multi-sensory experience with impressive and creative costumes, puppets, even more musical numbers than the film, and the contagious energy of live performers. The Lion King, the musical, is also touring around the country, and will soon be visiting New Orleans. From January 4 thru 29, The Saenger Theatre will be home to dancing lions, leaping gazelles and singing baboons.
Buyi Zama is a South African performer who has been with The Lion King production for 15 years. She took time out of her busy rehearsal schedule and gave up a nap between shows (incidentally, Zama does not recommend napping between shows as a general rule) to tell us a little bit about The Lion King.
“I play the role of the wise shaman baboon Rafiki,” said Zama. “It’s awesome to be part of a show that speaks to everyone from all walks of life. The best part is working with the most professional and talented team of people and being able to travel and see different parts of North America.”
Zama doesn’t have a lot of formal training in theater. But to see her perform, it is very clear that what she lacks in background she makes up for in natural talent. Zama brings her South African roots to the stage by singing and speaking in South African languages almost every time she opens her mouth. She said, “I hope people feel the love that’s onstage and celebrate the mix of different cultures.”
Zama feels that The Lion King’s popularity is due to its far-reaching appeal to a wide range of viewers. “I think it’s because of its universal storyline,” she said. “Everyone, no matter how old they are, finds a character with whom they can identify.” (And hopefully it’s not the murderous Scar).
It’s true that there is plenty to love in The Lion King. Whether it’s the costumes, the music by Elton John and Tim Rice, the relatable characters or the message the story brings across … even if you’ve already seen the film or the Broadway show before—maybe more than once—you’ll want to see this show. And see it again. As Zama said, “More than anything, the show will make you listen, feel and see with your heart.”
The Lion King is playing from January 4 thru 29 at The Saenger Theatre, 1111 Canal St., 504-525-1052, saengernola.com. For more information, show times and tickets, click HERE.