The Lion King has been running at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End solidly since it opened in 1999. Lion King tickets sales are still strong for a show that has been running over a decade and it remains the most popular cross generational show in London. In fact the show is still so loved by young and old alike that it has recently announced a UK touring version which will begin in Bristol this August. The show's success is due in part to a powerful emotional script, ingenious staging using puppetry and shadow work and of course people's knowledge of the 1994 animated Disney movie on which the musical version is based. What is often overlooked is just how good the songs are that feature in the film, and subsequently the stage show. A successful musical needs to have those instantly recognisable songs that are synonymous with the production.
Many a great musical has failed to click in the long run even with a great story, staging and cast if it doesn't have a handful of stunning - and hummable - hit songs that connect with the audience. Love Never Dies, the long awaited sequel toPhantom Of The Opera had its plus points, but no song leapt from the stage and into the audience's consciousness like the latter's stirring title track, the caressing The Music Of The Night or the intimate All I Ask Of You. Phantom is now in its 26th year yet the much-hyped Love Never Dies was put out of its misery after less than eighteen months. Martin Guerre perplexed critics because it had a lot going for it but the songs just seemed a little…meh. Even after a couple of reworks producers eventually had to call time of the show. Similar could be said of Whistle Down The Wind and Notre Dame de Paris. It's no wonder that so many so-called 'jukebox musicals' based around the hits of an established act manage longevity - Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Thriller Live… Musical purists bemoan them for being soulless and too safe but at the end of the day it's bums on seats that matter.
The wonderful thing about The Lion King is that the songs were helmed specifically for the story as well as being so memorable. Yes the stage version is based on another source, a film, but the songs written by Elton John & Tim Rice grew in synthesis with the storyline, rather than having them crammed into an arguably simplistic plot structure (Mamma Mia please stand up.) The key songs of the show succeed in being both joyful and rousing as well as instantly memorable. Anyone about to head into the theatre to see the show already humming the shimmering Can You Feel The Love Tonight is thinking of The Lion King - not a music act from the 70s or 80s. They are already connecting with the show before it begins. The majestic Can You Feel The love Tonight was a worldwide hit, and also won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best original song. The rousing Circle Of Life and upbeat Hakuna Matata were also both Oscar nominated in the same year, reflecting the strength of the Disney film's score. Hakuna Matata is one of only four Disney songs to make the American Film Institute's list of 100 all-time best movie songs, along with When You Wish Upon A Star, Someday My Prince Will Come and Beauty and the Beast. The show also includes the bouncy I Just Can't Wait To Be King. The film's soundtrack is the biggest selling animated movie soundtrack of all time, shifting over 10 million units in the US alone.
With such a pedigree it seems clear whyLion King tickets are still hot property. Parents worldwide feel safe buying tickets for the show because not only do they know their children already like the songs but the message they all contain is positive and even more importantly, fun.