In a birthday celebration fit for Pride Rock royalty, The Lion King will mark its 20th anniversary on Broadway with an extraordinary gift to the city of New York: a free performance on Wednesday evening, November 15, for an audience selected via Broadway Direct’s digital lottery. In addition to presenting tickets to more than 1,600 lucky theatergoers, Disney plans to take the festivities to the middle of Times Square, where thousands more can enjoy Lion King–themed activities on Sunday, November 12. Fans can also enter the Broadway Direct lottery at New York Public Library locations across the five boroughs. To view all locations, click HERE.
“As we talked about ways to mark this special anniversary, it seemed right to give back to the city that has been our home for the past 20 years,” says Andrew Flatt, senior vice president of strategy, marketing, and revenue for Disney Theatrical Group. “We’re humbled and grateful that The Lion King has become an iconic part of the Broadway landscape. Offering up this performance feels like the least we can do.”
Broadway Direct launched its popular digital lottery with Disney two years ago in celebration of The Lion King’s 18th anniversary. Since then, Broadway Direct has amassed over 12 million lottery entries for a variety of shows, which have enabled over 250,000 fans the opportunity to experience Broadway, many for the first time.
The 20th-anniversary ticket lottery is a supersized offshoot of Disney’s partnership with Broadway Direct, which offers at least 20 discounted tickets per performance for the sold-out hit musical. This time around, every seat is free, with registration for the November 15 show available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. November 12. (Look for iPad-equipped kiosks on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets.) Additional signup stations will be set up at public libraries in all five New York City boroughs, coordinated with the help of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Winners will be notified by email beginning November 13. (Visit lionking.com/20 for more information.)
Beyond the gala birthday performance, Disney has dreamed up an array of family-friendly treats in Times Square throughout the day on November 12. Budding musicians can join a drum circle of African instruments used in the show, then snap photos atop a replica of Pride Rock and pose with cast members mingling in the crowd.
Of course, no Lion King celebration would be complete without a nod to the brilliant designs of Julie Taymor, who took home Tony Awards for the show’s costumes and direction. “We’ll have masks and puppets on display so people can get a good look at Julie’s work,” confirms Flatt, highlighting Taymor’s inspired decision not to cover the actors’ faces with animal masks. “Last but not least, we’ll have stations set up so people can see ‘Circle of Life’ in virtual reality.” Taymor’s now-legendary opening number was captured several years ago in a 360-degree immersive video, allowing viewers wearing VR headsets to watch it as if they’re standing on stage or in the wings of the Minskoff Theatre, as well as from the audience.
Flatt remembers seeing The Lion King shortly after opening night and feeling stunned by the power of Taymor’s vision. “I had been told the show was wonderful, but when you see those animals parading down the aisle and onto the stage during ‘Circle of Life,’ it’s an overwhelming experience,” he says now. “And that reaction is something we continue to see night after night wherever The Lion King is playing. Julie’s world is brought to life by a company of artists and actors and designers in such a beautiful and cohesive way.”
Beyond its visual splendor, The Lion King’s story and themes remain as compelling today as they were on opening night. “We live in a different world than we did 20 years ago,” says Flatt, “and the ways audiences relate to the show have evolved and changed as well.” One example: “Not only do we employ a multicultural cast in The Lion King, but I think we’ve played a part in helping to diversify the audience that comes to see Broadway shows. That’s exciting, and it feels completely relevant in today’s world.”
Central to the show’s enduring success is its emphasis on family. “No matter who you are, no matter what your background is, the notion of ‘the circle of life’ is universal,” notes Flatt. “Simba is born; his father, Mufasa, is killed; and Simba has to take his place as leader and ruler. We’ve received remarkable letters from audience members who have experienced some of life’s harder transitions — the loss of a parent, the death of a child — and they tell us that seeing The Lion King reminds them that all of us are part of something bigger than ourselves. I don’t know of another property that offers that sort of healing.”
The multigenerational appeal of The Lion King will be on full display during the outdoor 20th-anniversary party November 12. “We welcome everyone who happens to be in the city that day to come out and celebrate with us,” says Flatt. “It’s going to be very informal and fun, with a bunch of different ways to engage with the show.”
As for the free performance on Wednesday evening, November 15, it’s worth a trip to Times Square to enter the digital lottery. “The Broadway cast is going to have the joy of their lives,” Flatt says with an anticipatory laugh. “I have a feeling that the atmosphere at the theatre is going to be totally electric.”