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DUBAI: Marking 25 years since its Broadway premiere, “The Lion King” stage musical will make its Middle East debut in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 16, providing audiences from across the region with a rare opportunity to enjoy the award-winning production up close and personal in the UAE capital. 

The long-running adaptation of Disney’s popular 1994 animated film tells the coming-of-age story of young lion prince, Simba, who is forced to mature quickly when his father dies and he has to reclaim his birth-right. 

“What I’m so excited in bringing the show to Abu Dhabi is that this is the original production that has been seen for over 20 years on Broadway, and has been seen on stages in the West End, in Australia, in Hamburg, Japan, in so many theatrical markets around the world, and we will be delivering director Julie Taymor’s extraordinary theatrical vision to local audiences for the very first time. This is truly an iconic production,” said Michael Cassel, CEO of Michael Cassel Group, the theatrical producer leading “The Lion King’s” four-week run at Etihad Arena, in an interview with Arabian Weekly.   

“Audiences are in for an absolute treat because it is theater at its very best. The way Julie Taymor — who’s the original director of the production and the first female director to win the Tony Award for Director of Best Musical — what she imagined, and the world she’s created, as she brought the African savannah to life in a theater, is quite simply extraordinary,” he added. 

Over 100 people, both onstage and behind the scenes, will be bringing the show to Abu Dhabi. “We have performers from all around the globe who are in this company of ‘The Lion King.’ It truly is an international company, which is very rare. We have a lot of cast members from South Africa, which is so important to ensure authenticity in terms of the performance and certainly also the music that Lebo M. composed,” said Cassel. 

The stage musical’s popularity is also, of course, helped by the original film’s stellar soundtrack, created by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice, but also adapted for the theater with the help of South African producer and composer Lebo M. 

Expanding on how Lebo M. was brought into the show, Cassel said: “The way that the score for the stage production came to be is that when Tom Schumacher, who is the producer of ‘The Lion King’ and president of Disney Theatrical, was in conversation with Julie Taymor to direct it, he shared with Julie an album which had been released after the film was first released, and it was called ‘Rhythm of the Pride Lands’ and it featured all of this ‘Lion King’-inspired African music composed by Lebo M.  

“When Julie listened to that, she had the great idea that the music — as would be required for a Broadway show — needed to be expanded, and Lebo was engaged to work on production with Julie and with also Elton John and Tim Rice to bring some of his music to the stage production. And, really, that’s now at the core of the show. 

“The music is distinctive in terms of representing the sounds — the rhythms — of Africa, and as I said, you know, it has the hit songs that people may know and love from the film, such as ‘Circle of Life’ or ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight,’ but then features haunting new songs created for the stage, such as ‘Shadowland’ and, one of my favorite songs of all time, ‘He Lives In You,’” he added. 

“The Lion King” runs from Nov. 16 to Dec. 10 at Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi. 

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