The Lion King Preview Roars Through Boise's Morrison Center 

click to enlarge Adrienne Walker, who plays Nala, performed "Shadowland" at the VIP preview.

Adrienne Walker, who plays Nala, performed "Shadowland" at the VIP preview.

Jack Eldon, the vice president of domestic touring and regional engagements for Disney Theatrical Productions, dropped more than one statistical bomb during the Morrison Center preview of Broadway's The Lion King on May 21. Among them: the fact that The Lion King is in its 20th year on Broadway; that it has been seen by more than 98 million people; and that it's the highest-grossing Broadway production in history, pulling in more than $8 billion so far.

"That's billion with a B," Eldon told the crowd of VIPs gathered for the preview of the show, which will officially hit the Morrison Center stage in Boise this fall. "If you put [the earnings of] all of the Star Wars movies together, it still wouldn't have grossed as much as The Lion King."

click to enlarge Jack Eldon spoke on The Lion King, as well as Disney's other Broadway Productions—including Frozen, which has yet to debut. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Jack Eldon spoke on The Lion King, as well as Disney's other Broadway Productions—including Frozen, which has yet to debut.

Guests got a taste of the production before Eldon even walked on stage. The night began when the house lights dropped for a dramatic performance of "Circle of Life" by actress and singer Mukelisiwe Goba, who plays Rafiki for the North American "Rafiki Tour." Her bold, sweeping notes filled the room effortlessly, and the Boise State University Meistersingers backed her up for the song's iconic chorus, setting the stage for more cast performances to come. All that was missing were the costumes. 

After the applause for Goba died down, Eldon talked through everything from the costume and set design to the musical composition of the production, and the complications of adapting Disney's 1994 animated classic for the stage. Among those modifications, he said, was the choice by Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor to cast a woman for Rafiki and enhance Nala's role, giving women more representation in the play. Another was her decision to create custom masks and puppets for she show that rested above or in front of the actors' faces, rather than covering them.

click to enlarge Left to right: masks created for Simba, Nala and Mufasa. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Left to right: masks created for Simba, Nala and Mufasa.
"Her concept was, 'never hide the humanity, always show the stagecraft,'" said Eldon, explaining how the Simba, Scar, Nala and Mufasa masks (all displayed beside him on stage) can swing down to hover in front of the actors' faces during action scenes at the push of a button, then rise back up for dialogue.

Between video clips of Taymor talking about her craft and diagrams of the various apparatuses that make the show tick—including a cart called the "gazelle wheel" covered in animal-shaped cutouts that give the impression of gazelles leaping when it's rolled across stage—more of the cast performed. Highlights included when Adrienne Walker, who plays Nala, delivered a powerful rendition of "Shadowland," one of the songs created specifically for the Broadway performance, and when Dashaun Young, who plays Simba, joined her on stage for a playful performance of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."

click to enlarge Adrienne Walker and Dashaun Young performed "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" backed up by the BSU Meistersingers. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Adrienne Walker and Dashaun Young performed "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" backed up by the BSU Meistersingers.
Goba also returned to give a demonstration of the African dialects incorporated into the show, holding forth in her native click language, Zulu, to the delight of the audience. At the end of her sassy monologue, Goba revealed that she'd been telling the audience to hurry up and buy tickets to the show.

Those who want to do just that have a couple of options. The Lion King will run from Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 17-Nov. 4, and groups of 10 or more are already welcome to book tickets, but individual seats won't be up for grabs online until Friday, June 15, at 10 a.m.

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