For nearly 15 years now, The Lion King, Disney’s landmark Broadway musical, has thrilled audiences around the world, drawing theatergoers of all ages into a story of hope and survival set against a stunning theatrical backdrop of the African jungle. The show’s particular cultural impact caught the attention of the United Nations Foundation, whose remarkable grassroots campaign, Nothing But Nets, aims to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. “We immediately realized that so many people around the world are exposed to Africa through this hit show than anything else we could imagine,” says Christopher Helfrich, director of the campaign. So the UN Foundation reached out to the Nederlander Organization, operators of the Minskoff Theatre where The Lion King is currently playing on Broadway, with a request for Nederlander and Disney to become UN Foundation partners and join their global initiative to “spread the buzz” about the campaign to save lives.
“Five years ago when this campaign launched, a child was dying every 30 seconds from the disease,” Helfrich explains. “Now it is every 60 seconds. So we have made tremendous progress and that’s the direction we are headed.” Nothing But Nets asks donors to contribute just $10 – every penny of which will go toward providing insecticide treated bed nets designed to prevent death from disease.
The cast of The Lion King welcomed the opportunity to support this worthy and relevant cause: Actress Tshidi Manye, who is currently playing Rafiki in the Broadway production of The Lion King says, “All of us at The Lion King take pride in helping the UN Foundation and Nothing But Nets with their important work. It is fitting that our show, which draws inspiration from African cultures and art, can give its fans an opportunity to help fight malaria and save lives on the continent.”
Nederlander and Disney’s The Lion King join an impressive list of Nothing But Nets partners that also includes The National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer (sports that use nets), the United Methodist Church, the Union for Reformed Judaism, the Boy Scouts of America, and a host of other organizations, but their new partnership with Nederlander and Disney is notably different.
“This is the first time the campaign has been out in front of theatergoers,” says Helfrich. Working in partnership with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the audience at The Lion King and in other Nederlander theatres will have an opportunity to contribute to the campaign. In addition, Nederlander offices in Chicago, Durham, Los Angeles, and elsewhere have also embraced this campaign by sponsoring local fund raising efforts through lobby displays, audience appeals, and special promotions now through World Malaria Day on April 25, by encouraging audiences to spend $10 to “send a net and save a life.” The funds raised from this appeal to theatergoers will go directly to send 100,000 nets to the over 130,000 refugees who have fled to South Sudan to escape the fighting on the border of the country. Click here to make a donation.
More than just showcasing Disney’s extraordinary production The Lion King, supporting Nothing But Nets provides the Nederlander Organization with an opportunity to elevate its social outreach to the world stage. “Throughout his 70-year career, my father James M. Nederlander has presented international artists on Broadway and elsewhere so that American audiences could be exposed to ballets from Russia, folk dance from the Ukraine, and acrobats from China,” says James L. Nederlander, company president. “Nothing But Nets enables us to shine our spotlight on an important health issue that everyone in our country needs to be aware of. Audiences from around the world have been attending our theatres since 1912. We are happy to do our part to give back.”
In recognition of Nederlander’s support of Nothing But Nets and in celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary, Nothing But Nets will name James M. Nederlander, the patriarch of the family, “Champion in the Fight to End Malaria” at a special World Malaria Day reception at the United Nations on April 23rd attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, members of The Lion King cast, and UN Foundation partners and leaders.