Two decades into The Lion King’s run, parts of the show have subtly changed. Nine minutes of scenes, songs and dances were cut for time. “There were things on reflection we could tighten up and so we did,” Schumacher says. At one point, Zazu sings to Scar a butchered version of Frozen’s “Let It Go.” When the show originally opened, the bird sang “It’s a Small World (After All),” making reference to the long-running Walt Disney Parks ride. “Every couple of years it’s that song that people roll their eyes at if they have to hear it one more time,” Taymor says. At one point, Zazu sang “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. “A lot of things culturally change,” Dlamini explains. “A lot of things then aren’t funny today.” The changes aren’t just in New York City. “When we perform it all over the world, all the humor gets adapted to local culture and local contemporary jokes,” Taymor reveals.
But the formula that made The Lion King a blockbuster success isn’t what producers use to mold a hit today. “The biggest lesson is: The recipe for success is the formula for failure,” advises Schumacher. “If you think you know how to do it, you’re in a terrible position. You have to approach everything as if it’s the first time.” Taymor adds: “If you don’t take risks and are willing to fail, then you won’t come up with something that’s fresh and that breaks boundaries.” After The Lion King opened on Broadway, Aida, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin (which is still running) followed. “The Lion King didn’t influence the other pieces, but TheLion King made it possible, because of its success, to open a lot of doors,” says Schumacher. “Because of The Lion King, [the producers] gave me the chance to be in Aida. I am grateful to Disney,” says Heather Headley, who portrayed Nala in the original cast and went on to win a Tony Award for Best Actress as the title role in Aida.
There’s a reason why The Lion King has been wowing crowds in New York City for two decades. “Because in The Lion King you have so many people with different backgrounds and races,” explains Dlamini. Now 49 years old and married with a child, Dlamini shares the stage with Jelani Remy, the actor currently playing Simba. “Twenty years and still passionate,” he proudly boasts of his co-star who plays seven characters and understudies for Shenzie. Remy, 30, from New Jersey, started in the ensemble of the Las Vegas production in 2009 and transferred to Broadway in 2015. His face is seen on buses, commercials and billboards all over the world. “It feels like a blessing to be hitting this milestone with this little ol’ show,” he exclaims of being part of the celebration.