Production: “The Lion King” (Working In The Theatre # 270)


A very warm welcome to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” I’m Isabelle Stevenson. I’m the President of the American Theatre
Wing. And once again, we are coming to you from
the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These seminars offer a rare opportunity to
hear what it is to work in the theatre, the realities of working in the theatre, from
an extraordinary list of performers, producers, playwrights, directors, designers, casting
agents, press agents, union and guild leaders. And since the Wing first introduced them,
some 25 years ago, nearly 1000 of Broadway’s and Off-Broadway’s best have been our seminar
guests. The Wing is founder of the Tony Awards. Many of you know this. But what you might not know is that it is
given for distinguished achievement in the craft of theatre. And it continues to stand for that excellence
in the theatre for lo these many years. However, many of you do not know what we do
all year round, which is a great deal. For example, our year-round programs take
in these seminars and programs that are dedicated to serving the community and the theatre. And we also honor excellence by helping to
develop new audiences, discriminating audiences. To do this, we have created audience development
programs for students. We have “Introduction to Broadway,” begun
seven years, which has now enabled over 70,000 high school students to attend a Broadway
show and frequently meet and question the cast, the majority of the students for the
very first time, and also the first time on Broadway. Then there’s our newest program, which is
“Theatre in Schools.” This “Theatre in Schools” program brings
professionals, like those that you will meet today, and they go directly into classrooms
to work with and talk to students about working in the theatre, what is ahead for them as
they enter the world of theatre. And of course, there is the Wing’s legendary
hospital program, which dates back to World War Two and the Stage Door Canteen. And through it, performers from Broadway,
Off-Broadway and the cabaret world have entertained more than 75,000 patients in nursing homes,
veterans’ hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers in the New York area, bringing
the magic of theatre to those that can not go to the theatre itself. We are proud of our history, proud of the
work that we do, and happy to have a wonderful, extraordinary working relationship with the
theatrical community. We’re also grateful for all those who make
what the Wing does possible. We hope that you will enjoy and learn from
today’s seminar, which is the Production Seminar. And it is on THE LION KING, that exciting
new theatre on 42nd Street that has really brought magic into the theatre and into the
audiences. I’d like to introduce to you today’s panel. And from my left will be Chris Boneau, Peter
Schneider, Julie Taymor, Tom Schumacher, and Lebo M and Rick Elice. And to moderate this is our very, very own
Ted Chapin, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing and
President of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. And so, Ted, will you now begin with your
side of the work that goes on into what’s made THE LION KING what it is today? (APPLAUSE) I’ll try, Isabelle, thank you for that. On Broadway, there is absolutely nothing as
exciting as the opening of a brand-new hit American musical. And when a musical opens that has as much
imagination and inventiveness as THE LION KING does, this whole town cheers. And that was certainly the case this fall,
when THE LION KING opened. Adding to that the fact that it opened in
a jewel box theatre on 42nd Street that had been lovingly restored, on a street that is
similarly lovingly restored. It’s really an extraordinary achievement
for everybody. To begin here, as we all know, the musical
is a collaborative art form. And as you can see, it takes a lot of people
to put one together. Also, usually, at least the good ones, are
usually based on something. And in this instance, it was based on an animated
movie with all animals. And I thought that would be a good place to
start, and I wanted to ask Peter Schneider, who is the President of Walt Disney Feature
Animations and Theatrical — get it right for me. You got it right. Okay, good enough. That’s good enough. It’s close enough. Anyway, in 1990, you hired Tom Schumacher
to produce an animated movie you were working on called THE KING OF THE JUNGLE. That is true. What is that and does it bear any resemblance
to what we know today as THE LION KING? Well, you did say that all good things are
based on something. Right. And it’s interesting, Tom and I have made
several movies together, being BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN and THE LITTLE MERMAID. And they were all based on classic stories. And THE LION KING was supposed to be the first
one that we were going to do that was based on nothing, on basically an idea that we had
sat around talking about, about responsibility and what your responsibility to mankind is. And it was supposed to be a small, little
movie in between the big movies, because things that are not based on some other material
would be never be a big idea. And it was to fill time before — what was
the movie that was going to come after it? POCAHONTAS? Yeah, POCAHONTAS was going to come after it. POCAHONTAS was after it. So it was sort of to fill time in between,
and nobody thought very much of this idea. And we struggled very hard to try and create
the movie. And for a long time, it was called KING OF
THE JUNGLE. Or KING OF THE BEASTS. KING OF THE BEASTS! Then we made BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (LAUGHTER),
so you couldn’t have the word “beast” in the title. Death, you know, with beast in the title. And then it became KING OF THE JUNGLE. And the development of the movie was really
a five to seven year process. This one was particularly long, because of
the miserable development that it had to go through. And we were struggling with the story, because
when you don’t have an underlying material to base something on, you keep on re-exploring
and re-examining. And animation is very much like running a
theatre company. It’s a very small, repertory theatre company
that has a center of development process. We do workshops, we do readings, in different
ways than the normal theatre process. But it’s in some sense akin to it. And for a long time, we had a very hard time
finding the center and the soul of the whole piece. And we called it KING OF THE JUNGLE and it
does bear a lot of resemblance to what we have today, because it is an additive process. And until we sort of went to Hans Zimmer — Well, actually, the thing that’s important
to know is that when the piece went into development as a movie, it was not a musical. And in fact, no one at the time thought that
you could actually musicalize this material in any way, because the minute you said, “Musical,”
they imagined lions in top hats. (LAUGHTER) And lions singing! Yeah. And how could you have a lion sing, and only
people do musicals. So the whole idea of it even being a musical
was something that no one believed in. And in fact, when we first approached Tim
Rice on the first pass of the music, the first sort of hit of music was Tim Rice looking
at it. We brought Elton John in. Elton wrote the songs. And we had five songs written, and we’re
still not convinced that the thing was viable, actually, as a musical, that it would even
work at that level. We set up the first twenty minutes of it without
music. It was sort of a National Geographic special. And we were all put to sleep by it. It was very uninteresting. National Geographic is very good! It was like a bad National Geographic special. (LAUGHTER) Bad National Geographic. National Geographic is very important. Gotta be careful! Very careful here. (LAUGHTER) Like, you can’t say enough about National
Geographic! (LAUGHTER) National Geographic is very important. Yes. Nothing closer to my heart than the National
Geographic! Having said that, it came off as very educational,
not very entertaining, and not very interesting. And then we said, “Well, let’s try and
make it a musical. Let’s try and find some format, try and
find something that is more interesting about it than this sort of National Geographic special. And we got those songs in, pretty much the
ones that you would know, “I Can’t Wait to be King,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” “Circle of Life.” “Circle of Life.” And this was the sort of three that came in
first, and we didn’t know quite how they would fit into it, even though those were
the songs written. And it was then that we involved Hans Zimmer. We said, you know, “Hans, would you just
score the movie and would you help with the arrangements of the songs?” And Hans found really what many of us feel
is the key and the entire center of what the tone and the feel of the movie is, and its
spirit, which is Lebo M. So Hans, who had worked with Lebo on another scored movie called
POWER OF ONE — it’s a lot of history, but it’s important to sort of get how it got
there, because it gets ignored all the time. (LAUGHS) To some irritation. (LAUGHTER) Hans knew Lebo, brought Lebo in, and together
they created that version of “Circle of Life,” that people know from the movie,
which begins with this soulful cry from Lebo, the only element of the movie that’s been
played in every language around the world. As we add other voices to it, it’s always
Lebo starting the movie. And that’s really the soul of what the movie
became. And suddenly, it was like a door opened, and
we figured out what the idiom was, in a sense, what the vocabulary could be. And it really came from that. That was the big seminal moment. But it was neat. Just to put it in context, it was two and
a half years from the idea — we said, “Let’s make a movie set in Africa” — to the Hans
Zimmer moment when it all came together. And then there was still another two and a
half, three years of production to make it real. And that’s, of course, not counting the
story agony, about story points changing, who was who. When the film began, for example, Rafiki was
a cheetah who was the advisor to Mufasa, because Mufasa was at war with the baboons. (LAUGHTER) I mean, this was a big different
thing, you know. I mean, even songs that are in the show now,
like “Be Prepared,” was actually written for later in the show as a song called “Thanks
to Me,” which was sung as sort of a victory song after killing Mufasa. So things shifted around. Can I back up for a second? We boring you now, Ted? (LAUGHTER) No, no, no, you’re not boring me in the
slightest, but you’re going very fast. And because this on production, one of the
things which is obviously extraordinary about animated movies is you could do a piece of
it, look at it, and decide it was a National Geographic special, junk it or use elements
of it and rethink. Just like a workshop. Right, right. I do a sort of videotape on the first four
minutes of the show, and over a period of time, you see the progression. Because animation is done very slowly, in
black and white, story boards, you make it move, you get to go back and change it. So it is very re– reit– Iterative. — reiterative, in terms of being able to
do it over and over and over again, which is why I think the work is great, because
one has time to keep doing it and finding and exploring. And the first four minutes went through an
incredible transformation, from being told with dialogue, with Sarabi and Mufasa welcoming
the new cub, the baboon Rafiki coming. And it was very ponderous and very uninteresting. It was all talky. It was all talky. “Ah, Rafiki, my oldest friend! Come to bless my son!” “How good to see you!” (LAUGHTER) “Oh, look, what do we have here?” Right, you can all laugh at that, but that’s
exactly how the opening was. And it was finally, after all this process
of going around and around and around and the song finally coming in correctly, because
Elton rewrote the song three times before we came to the lasting version of “Circle
of Love.” There was a previous version that is not — Similar, different tune. Different tune. Then we have it done with Elton doing the
tune the way it is and the lyrics. And really, it wasn’t until the whole combination
of Hans Zimmer Lebo-izing it and bringing some authenticity to it — You’re a verb! (LAUGHTER) Lebo-ize it! Then it all comes together, and when you see
it, you go, “Oh, I see all the elements from the two and a half years, all capsulized
and crystallized into, like, a good stew. It’s been reduced down to the essential
elements, where that moment of holding the baby up is really the mythical moment and
it sets the movie off in the right direction. And you get that sense of community and it’s
a story about this cub. And that, I think, is the fundamental nature
of the piece. And I think that’s what helped. But it is discovery, over and over, much like
the process in animation, which is for our viewers probably very similar to what they
expect for theatre, because it is about workshopping. You workshop it and you look at it. And it’s like seeing something done in rehearsal
clothes. It’s seeing something in a rehearsal room,
with rehearsal furniture, rehearsal props. And that’s the story reel form. And then you keep, as Peter says, going over
it and finding it. And then, really you get the movie up and
animated, like half-animated, and now it’s like going out of town. Because you’ve got it in costume, you’ve
got it on its real set. You can actually evaluate it. And then we begin looking at it really up
and you say, “Oh, that song doesn’t work.” So “Hakuna Matata” is a replacement for
a song that didn’t work, called “Warthog Rhapsody.” You move songs around, you cut things, you
change things. That’s going out of town. And one of the most seminal moments in– Did you want to say something, Ted? (LAUGHTER) No, no, no! I’m going to jump in here when I want. I think one of the seminal moments of the
movie and the play, of course, is the Rafiki head bonking. Rafiki takes his club and hits Simba on the
head and says, you know, the whole line, and you think, “Oh, how can you do this whole
show and the movie without that particular moment?” That moment was added in the last four months
of this whole process. The movie was up, it was almost all in color,
it was sort of finished. And it just wasn’t resonating, it wasn’t
working. And we added this. We kept expanding Rafiki, thinking Rafiki
would be the key to that. And this moment of the head bonking, which
is now one of the funniest moments, it’s sort of one of the emblematic moments of the
whole show, was added at the very last minute. So it is the same process that allowed us
to go through this whole thing of saying where the movie is. Can I ask a question? Sure! You may, you may. Because this is about dollars and cents. Is it cheaper than going out of town? Well, the animated process, of course, no. Making animated movies is a very expensive
business. And we believe fundamentally about being able
to throw things out. Having enough money in reserve that when you
make a mistake, you can — without blinking, without real soul-searching — throw it out
and start the process again. Because without the ability to, quote unquote,
I suppose waste money — it’s not wasting money, our process. But if you look at it, “My God! They spent all that money and they just threw
it out!” Without that ability to do [that], I don’t
think you make great art. Now, there is an interesting balance to the
money and the on the road comparison. Oftentimes, being able to work in both businesses,
for Peter and I, we have a perspective that’s different from people who just work in one
side or the other. The people who work in animation look at the
theatre and say, “Oh, gosh, how easy! You don’t have to redraw all that, just
write a new song and have ‘em go sing it on Thursday!” Which those of us who work in the theatre
know, that’s complete agony. You have to do orchestrations, you have automation
cues, you have lighting. You have to have a costume. What set are they singing it on? When are they going to rehearse it? You don’t get any time to rehearse. So there’s that dilemma, but the animation
guy says, “Oh, just redraw it,” because you have to go do it. The theatre people say, “Oh, you just draw
it. That’s simple. You just send it back in. You’ve got none of this time (PH), just
send it off and have it redrawn.” But the process of making final animation
is so time-consuming that when you’re working up to a release date, you have to also figure
out how to be efficient. Because you can’t just keep throwing it
out forever, with your release date. So in terms of the early on choices, as Peter
said, yes, we think we benefit from the ability to chuck things out. The flip side is, we run out of time, so then
you’re making compromises. And the same kind of Band-Aids and, you know,
baling wire tricks that we do to keep a piece of theatre alive happens in animation. So when we look at the movie THE LION KING,
we’re slapping our foreheads the whole time, because all the Band-Aids to us show. They stick out. One of the fun things about having Julie watch
it the first time is she came to it with all these questions and all these observations,
mostly about (LAUGHS) things that are all Band-Aided and baling wired. She found them. Because she found every piece of chewing gun
that held everything together. (LAUGHTER) And she said to me, “You know,
this story doesn’t make any sense, really.” (LAUGHTER) I mean, I’m touched by the overall,
but this Simba guy, what’s his journey about?” And so, when Julie came to it, totally from
the story side, saying, first view, “What’s wrong with this story?”, she discovered
all that, even though there’s something about the movie that keeps that going. Who had the final say on the movie? Who’s the one who said, at the twelfth hour,
“That’s THE LION KING, the movie. It gets released.”? The clock. The clock. The clock? And you guys and Michael Eisner? It’s a complete collaborative process, in
that if you look at the process, it is not a committee, but it is collaborative. And it works until the moments all work. And we have a fixed release date, we don’t
change our release dates. I can tell you the release dates for the next
six movies now for the next six years, and that’s the dates. And for us, we agree on an idea, because we
like ideas. We agree on what the idea will be. POCAHONTAS, THE LION KING, MULAN that’s
coming out this summer. We like the idea. And then we commit to making it, without a
script, without the music, without anything other than, “We like the idea, and five
years later, here’s our date we’re releasing it.” And now we work as artists to try and get
all the pieces to come together to hit that date. That’s fascinating. So it’s not like in the theatre or in the
other movie business, where people write scripts and you judge them, and then you make a go
or no go decision. We make the go decision from the fundamental
idea, whether we like the idea. Okay, so now THE LION KING movie is finished. It’s finished. And it’s a big hit! Oh, a huge hit. A huge hit, a huge hit. Inexplicably huge. I mean, just to put it in context, it was,
until last week, the fifth highest grossing movie ever made. TITANIC pushed it down one notch. But there are only five other movies, you
know, whether it’s good or bad, that have made more money than THE LION KING. So it’s not just a good animated movie. It is, on the scale of movies, just a huge
movie. I want to come in again. Who first said the words, “Julie Taymor”? I was getting there, but — (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s a much more difficult question. Okay. Before we get there, though, I want to know,
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, hit on Broadway. Who came up with the absolutely preposterous
idea of, of all the movies that you’ve done, that this is the one that should be looked
at? Frank Rich. Frank Rich? Frank Rich, in his review on WQXR — what
is the classical radio station, WQXR? Umm-hmm. WQXR, in his review of the movie. Of THE LION KING. No, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Well, he was asking about THE LION KING. I was asking about THE LION KING, but that’s
okay, fill in. Oh, sorry. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was open. It was open, it was running. Frank Rich’s idea. So who had the idea of THE LION KING? Ward Morehouse (PH). Ward Morehouse! (LAUGHTER) Well, we read it there first. Yeah, we read it there first. That you were doing it? (LAUGHS) Yes. Ward does have his finger on the pulse. He does have his finger on the pulse. But it was an idea that was put forward of
what could the next movie be, an animated movie that could be turned into a stage thing. And I think Michael Eisner sort of browbeat
us into the idea that this could be the one to do. Even though it was your initial instinct this
was maybe not a good idea? Or you three had worked together before? No. No, we hadn’t worked together before. We did, but not Julie. We thought that THE LION KING itself wasn’t
a good idea. Was a bad idea. There’s a really fascinating and deftly
written foreword to Julie’s book on THE LION KING — Who wrote that foreword? Absolutely. Perhaps I have written this foreword. (LAUGHTER) It tells the story. They’re available for sale in the lobby. And Julie will sign it for you, if you like. But the idea of doing THE LION KING as a literal
adaptation, because what we elected to do with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is pretty much give
you on stage a smartly done, very handsome version of the animated movie. And so, when you come to it, it follows much
of the esthetic of the animated movie and it has the feeling of that. That’s what its mandate was. What we could not imagine doing, when Michael
said THE LION KING, and since we were not running the theatrical division at the time,
we could not understand how fulfilling what appeared to be the Disney mandate for what
should be done in the theatre, how you could possibly do THE LION KING and make it a credible
experience that was emotional. Because the minute you blocked the human spirit
out of it and you did some kind of costume that would do that or limit you, you took
— A literal translation. Yeah, a literal translation. It was impossible to figure out how you would
do that, how you would get the sensitivity of those animal characters through it and
make it special. We couldn’t figure out how to do that. And Michael kept pushing. He didn’t have to worry about how it would
be done, he just wanted it to happen. He just wanted it done. That’s what you were supposed to solve,
that problem. It’s our jobs to figure out how to do it. And you know, if one doesn’t go into the
theatre with an ambition to do something interesting or remarkable, you look at animation and the
artists there believe, every time they go to make a movie, they’ll make a movie better
than Walt Disney ever could do it. Whether they do or not is really immaterial. They have the belief as an artist that they
can find something special or interesting that has never been done before. And sometimes they succeed and sometimes they
fail. But without the belief or the commitment to
do something original and unique, why bother starting down the path? Because then you’ve failed, in my opinion,
already. So with THE LION KING, we knew we had something
special. The movie was so wonderful. How do you get anything better than the movie? It’s all about film. It’s these big camera moves and herds of
wildebeest and smiling lions and frightened animals. And the movie, if you actually look at the
style of the movie, particularly if you look at it as a designer, the movie is shifting
its design point of view all the time. I mean, Scar couldn’t even walk through
the “Circle of Life” number and be a credible character. And then, in the “Circle of Life” number
we have meerkats popping up all over the place that look nothing like Timon, who’s going
to come in in the second act. It doesn’t seem to even hold together visually,
because the animation allows you to just leap around. It’s like National Geographic animals, then
it becomes cartoon animals. So it seemed sort of impossible. So that’s where the trick was, to go find
people, or somebody, that could do the translation of this in a special way. And one of the people that Tom had put on
the list and had known her work was Julie. And we went down that path. You know, she came in and — So you watched this movie. Right. (LAUGHS) Jump in, Julie. And you thought, “They’re nuts!” No, no, no. Well, Tom, I think you hadn’t seen anything
live, but you’d seen some video of a piece that I had done many years ago, called LIBERTY’S
TAKEN, which was a canvas that had about five or six hundred characters and it had inanimate
objects as well as human beings and animals. And you knew that I had created worlds before
that were not the normal kind of worlds that you put into the theatre. Starting with THE HAGADDAH at the Public Theatre,
when you have the ten plagues and the Red Sea. JUAN DARIEN. My background in theatre, I like epic theatre. I like theatre that normally isn’t kitchen
sink. And I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare, so the
panorama is something I find to be quite a wonderful, challenging thing for the theatre,
because it means you must use the poetry and artistry of the theatre to get to the essence. So it’s not about translating the literal
landscape onto the stage, but finding a theatrical way to get to the essence, which is what you
have to do when you’re moving from film to theatre. And quite the contrary, when I saw the movie,
I loved the idea of the stampede. I mean, yes, how do you do that? But I loved the idea of having to create multiple,
multiple numbers, a lot of what are these gigantic swoops of the camera, the shots that
come from above, the changing of perspective. I’ve done that in the theatre, whether it’s
the smaller pieces or the large opera pieces that I’ve done outside of the United States,
which most people are not aware of. This is a medium that I would enjoy and would
really take the challenge. I mean, if you want, I can just talk or you
can ask particular questions. Go for it, go for it. I mean, the areas were exactly what Tom started
to say, which was first of all, I work from the story. So it’s not “How am I going to visualize
it?” First, “What is the story? Do we think the story is complete? Does the story work for the theatre?” When we began, there was not even the absolute
that this was a legitimate Broadway musical. It could have been done in Radio City Music
Hall. It could have been a kind of Cirque du Soleil. It could have been done in a planetarium. We knew that we would like it to be a Broadway
musical, but what does that mean, then? And you had a short movie, which had time
for expanding. The movie was what, how many minutes? Eighty-one minutes. Eighty-ish. So, we knew if it was going to be a two act
structure, we could then strengthen the places where the Band-Aids were bridging holes. And those areas, we all agreed on. The collaborative process, I actually went
off in one direction that Tom just adored for a moment. (TOM LAUGHS) No, I was given tremendous freedom. You know, it’s a collaborative process,
but on the other hand, if you don’t give [freedom to] the main artist, which I think
in this case is the director to pull it together. And this I think is a positive thing. I think that the two of them, rather than
saying, “These are your limitations. You have to stay here, here.” — “Go for it. What do you think is missing? What is it I’m missing in the story?” Now, I may have gone off further than they
knew, but they didn’t know it until I had done it. Exactly. That’s a key thing. And therefore, my problem was, I felt that
what they were worried about is “How do you make this animal kingdom human on the
stage?” Because you need to have that connection with
the human being. And I was worried myself in the beginning,
how to do a whole show that was animals. And without going into a lot of detail, I
had created a second act where the animals morphed into half-humans, half-animals. Literally. And you know, I developed this thing, which
I thought was very exciting. In retrospect, I think it was good that we
didn’t do that. I think it would have been a four hour musical
and unnecessary, to tell you the truth. But what it did do was it then forced me to
come up with the visual concept, which was the double event of the human and the animal. And when I couldn’t do it in the storytelling,
and I was then told that the limitations are the same group of characters, the jungle and
the savannah, that we couldn’t go to Las Vegas or wherever I took it. (LAUGHTER) Not quite, but we couldn’t go
to this other place. Then within those limitations, I tried to
find other ways of doing it. The collaborative thing, because I was interested,
I don’t know if I could work in their animated way. I mean, it’s very different, even though
there are many things that are the same, in the sense that we had the workshop process. Also, people are always wondering, “Well,
was it by committee? I mean, is this such a collaborative that
you don’t get to fully pull through?” And it wasn’t that style. Why I think this was a wonderfully astute
and terrifically creative production team is that they allowed me to pick my team. Now, Lebo was there before, and I just agreed
with everybody that Lebo’s presence should be much more profound and his participation
as a composer should be much more involved. But Richard Hudson, Garth Fagan. Choreographer. Our sets, choreography. This was very supportive. It was not by committee. It wasn’t them saying, “We’re going
to have you work with this person and that person.” It wasn’t that kind of thing, which I think
is very dangerous, because I think that you have to let a vision come through and then
you support the vision. That doesn’t mean there aren’t checkpoints
along the way. And especially when I’m not sure it’s
working. And there were places where I’m going, “I
don’t know. What do you think?” And then I really respond to the creativity
of the producorial input. That’s very important to me. In your book, one of the most interesting
things that you point out is the various workshops that this show went through. I was fascinated by how certain characters
started life as puppets. Yes. Or started life as masks or the fascinating
mask that was in a backpack and stuff like that. Did you have to see those things fully realized
before you made the decision that that wasn’t the right way to do it? There are a certain amount of things that
I’ve done enough of that I know will work and I know what the effect will be. But I’ll just set that up a little bit. I’m going to have to assume that you’ve
seen it, because it’s a little tricky if I describe everything. But our first workshop was a workshop that
tested the book and the music, the majority of the music. And it was a sit-down, like this, actor, singer,
reading, which was absolutely fundamental to know whether this musical was going to
work, because it’s not about the visuals. It’s about the book, the music and the lyrics. And if that heart is there and we are moved
and entertained by that event, then the next step, which makes it spectacular theatre or
tells the story in a whole other way, you know, where you have a parallel story being
told. And some of this can’t be told through language,
but some of the story telling is through imagery. That came as well, and we knew that that was
going to happen, but we needed to know that our heart was there. And that reading, that includes new music
— Yeah. — new text, and some big character changes. Things like Rafiki, that hadn’t been in
the original film at all. Yeah, having Rafiki change gender. Where were you when that took place? What part of it? This was after a year, after I’d worked
on it for a year with Irene Mecchi and Roger Allers. Roger had been one of the original directors
on the movie and Irene and Roger became the writers of the book, with my input. Not my literal [input], but with my freshness,
being an outsider, coming in and pushing the story in ways. Because it’s very hard, if you’re very
entrenched in something, to be able to really look at it and be ruthless about it. So that was a very collaborative process. Working with Lebo and Elton and Tim and Mark
Mancina on new musical places. We knew that Elton and Tim would write three
new songs. And basically, as a director, I was given
the freedom to actually say where the fifteen — you know, so you’ve got five. Now we need about fifteen or sixteen. Where will these go? What songs are — where do we need new music? Which is the music that is really the Lebo
world of music, which is music that isn’t about necessarily character study, but it
is larger, about more spiritual or landscape. You know, like the “Lioness Chant” and
the grasslands that rise up. These are not Elton types of things. A wonderful piece, when the grass rises out
of the floor. To me, the genius musically of this piece
is that Elton and Lebo, because I’d say they’re the two major musical forces, are
not THE LION KING’s soul. What makes it so great is this incredible
merging of two talents, two talents from two disparate sources, that when they’re put
together create its own next unique sound. It’s really a fantastic collaboration in
that sense. And when we talk about collaboration, that’s
not by committee. That is a joining of two talents to create
a third, unique singular sound and a singular world. And that hopefully, through my ability as
a director and theirs as the producers, say, “It’s not a hodgepodge.” That we feel that we have completely blended
this to make its own East/West, Africa/America collaboration. Because even as a designer and working with
designers, I don’t want it to look like I’m just smorgasbording. “Here’s a little bit of Africa, here’s
a little bit of Asia.” It is filtered through us as artists and comes
out to be something unique. Authenticity doesn’t necessarily only mean
that it’s Africa transplanted. Authenticity means that it is true to whoever
and whatever has created it, that it feels authentic. It doesn’t only mean that it is pure, from
its origin, but it’s pure from the origin of the artist. And you sense that and you feel it. And I know that I directed my co-designers
to work that way, that we weren’t just making a copy. You know there are African fabrics that are
re-considered, re-configured in the design. Those aren’t pure. Yet you feel it. You feel the source there. So that was something that, again, was great
working with these men, because they let me take it. And we had this process whereby if they didn’t
like what I did — Or vice versa. Which we didn’t — or vice versa. Or vice versa, we would split. And I wouldn’t feel, either through having
been paid correctly, that we had a nice contract. Well, I think it is to their enormous credit
that they gave you, not only this responsibility, but they took this chance with you in the
sense of saying, “Take it.” But you see, what’s interesting is a lot
of people have said, “What a risk! What a risk to call Julie!” And I would say, “What a risk not to call
Julie!” Because at least this way, you’re putting
yourself in the hands of a magic maker, of someone who can take this material. And I harp on this, because it’s important. It’s about the attack on the material, that
was first. And then to put it through this process, which
as Julie says, allowed everyone to examine it. So it wasn’t some kind of foolhardy thing
where we just said, “Run away! See you on opening night!” We had a process that allowed for that. You must have had tremendous respect, on everyone’s
part, for what you were doing. There was. And it was a great give and take. Now, let’s hear the rest of these pieces
that go together. Who are you again? I’m the other guy. You’re Lebo M. I’m Lebo M. I guess my whole approach to
this and input was threefold, coming in from the movie to the stage production. First, I think the most important part of
it, musically and creatively, in terms of making the music for the movie, is that as
you established, me and Hans had worked together. So we had a working relationship on a movie
called POWER OF ONE. But even more important than that, we had
certain goals and intentions, when doing the soundtrack for POWER OF ONE, which was not
to do something that has been done before, as far as African films are concerned in Hollywood. The idea initially that we actually talked
about and planned was to do a soundtrack that is so huge, with African voices and African
percussions, but also marries into Eurocentric instrumentations and orchestrations and style
of writing. So we intentionally set out to create a clash
of music, that at the end of the day becomes really unique and comes out being a unique
sound. We did that with POWER OF ONE, and it ended
there, but fortunately the opportunity to really realize it as an idea came with THE
LION KING. And how it came with THE LION KING was some
three years after, I think — maybe two, I don’t remember — after I had done POWER
OF ONE with Hans, I had practice with a lot of other movies in between. It was work, not really practice, but I did
a few other movies, CONGO, OUTBREAK, made in America. But Hans called me into a studio at one time. We had done this routine where I would go
to his studio, do some demos, leave, or you know, throw ideas on tape and just go. When he had time or I had time — I had a
lot more time than he did (LAUGHTER) — we would literally go into the studio and hang
out, relax, and sometimes play around with ideas and throw them on tape and shop them. So I thought this call was one of those calls,
where I’d just go there and hang out with Hans. But there was something different about this
call, there was like seven or eight white guys with pens and pieces of paper. (LAUGHTER) And that was not a regular hangout
session. (LAUGHTER) And I noticed Tim Rice was there. It was the very first session I was in. I knew the face, but I couldn’t figure out
the name. And then, someone proceeded to explain to
me what we were about to do, and they showed me a clip, which is the very first clip from
the beginning of THE LION KING up to the end where THE LION KING logo comes in. That’s the first thing I saw. And I think it was in black and white then,
if I’m not mistaken. But we talked about it a lot with Hans, while
they were doing their producer thing. But I had a concept immediately, from just
that little bit, of what it was. And basically, we said, “Well, we can run
tape,” and me and Hans and I brought in about eight or seven singers from South Africa. And we created the first thing that you hear
when the movie starts. And basically, that’s what I did, did it
as a demo, and I left for South Africa. I think seven or eight months later, Hans
or someone called me from Los Angeles, and that’s when I got a script sent to me. It was not even a complete script. There was never a complete script for this
thing. (LAUGHTER) But it was ideas that were enough
ideas to make sense of the whole story. And I read that on my way to Los Angeles. I was really blown away by it and immediately,
I guess, became really personal with the story, because it was very relevant to me as an artist,
but also, more importantly to me, it was very relevant to me as a South African artist and
in context with what was happening in South Africa at that time. Lebo, can I ask you a question? You’re in the show now, aren’t you? I was. I’m still in the production. When did that decision get made to have you
[in the show]? Because you are the only creator who was,
at least when it opened in New York, in the show every night. I still don’t know where that decision came
from, but I’m really grateful for it. (LAUGHTER) I didn’t want to say that. (LAUGHTER) Well, he’s a great singer, and his presence. And we wanted him in the show. We never could find really a character, which
is why he’s not in it, because really Lebo has to do other things. He’s more of a creator. Creative, yes. It was important to us that we have South
African voices. Right. People from South Africa who sing this way,
who talk the language — how many languages are in this movie? Three. There’s Zulu, Sutu (PH) and Tossa (PH). And some Swahili. So it’s actually four, plus English. And I don’t know what Zazu speaks. (LAUGHTER) I’ll tell you, I was impressed when I saw
the show. And I’m a program reader, and I looked at
this, and I thought, “Oh, this is fascinating that this guy is also in the show.” I think it really was a great idea to have
me there, initially. (LAUGHTER) It was, it was! We agree! Actually, it’s a surprise, because I’ve
never really said that. Because I think there was a challenge — I’m
the only person from the movie who had it — which was to put a complete choir with
African-Americans — Americans, in general, because there are other Americans other than
African-Americans in the choir — in the same room with singers from South Africa, physically
from South Africa. And the idea, I mean, it’s a long story
how we got to that, both legal and political. But from the movie to stage, my involvement,
I was fascinated by how I got involved in it. Because I initially just came to New York
with Mark Mancina, who I became very close to from the movie, to go meet a lady named
Julie Taymor. And we went to Julie’s house. We were meeting, it was supposed to be I think
about 45 minutes to an hour, and then we’d go back to Los Angeles. We probably stayed at Julie’s house the
whole day, and we actually ended up working on the music for THE LION KING the same day
when we started. We were on a piano that evening at her house
putting it together. But basically, the most important thing to
me, and to Mark, and I believe to Julie, was that whatever elements we had musically in
the movie, especially in terms of the choral stuff, and in this case, Julie had opted to
put the choral stuff more in the center than it was in the movie. In the movie it was more background. You know, really underscore. Yeah, this has to come right up to the foreground. In this case, we have a situation where you
have characters that are actually singing and presenting the music in your face. And it was important to me that the authenticity
— in the way Julie explained it earlier, the word “authenticity” — of what we
did in the movie becomes real and true to the story as it was in the movie and as it’s
going to be in the stage show. Which means bringing together these group
of voices, from Africa and from America. Why I say that is because we had to end up
doing that in the movie, after going through some three to four weeks of recording the
best singers. We had done everything from Italian and German
movie scores, we record all of them in Los Angeles. And at the end of day, when looking at the
score and looking at the movie, it was good but it was not great and it was not really
emotionally attached to the story. So at the end of the day, the decision was
made to go to Africa, which fortunately Disney supported without questioning. And we recorded some 120 voices and incorporated
those with voices in Los Angeles and went to London and recorded, too. So it became a really, really authentic marriage
of these different cultures and styles of singing. But at the center of it was the South African
style and then everything else was background. So that was necessary for stage. And that, I think, was the other very important
element of it. Let me add to it, just because we’re on
the music now. The thing about when you’re trying to create
a film into theatre is obviously the live-ness of it. So the reason you would want the chorus to
be at the forefront is because, what is the point of having these anonymous voices? Where are they? In the pit, backstage? So they became the central character. There are principal characters, but I think
we all considered that the chorus in THE LION KING, dancers and singers, is a principal
characters. They are all the animals, they are the landscape,
and they come alive. And the thing about this clash that Lebo is
talking about, musically Mark Mancina — what is he technically called, the producer of
the music? Producer for the stage. Producer for the stage music. For the stage, yeah. He also wrote a lot of it. He’s one of the composers. Yeah, and one of the composers as well, who
worked with Lebo in particular. This was another thing that was very important,
which is that we have the orchestra pit, but we wanted to use the boxes in the theatre
for the percussionists. So that this is a fairly unique sound that
you’re getting in THE LION KING, which is the ethnic quota — or whatever that means,
we’re all “ethnic” of some kind — but those instruments that come from Africa, and
probably Asian instruments as well, I wanted the audience to see them being played, as
I wanted them to see the actors in the chorus singing and to be there walking down the aisles. Anything that we could do to make it live
and not make it an imitation of a film, but to do what theatre can do, was extremely important. I think people, again, take for granted the
through music of this piece. That you know, you have in traditional musicals
the dialogue and no underscoring and then you have a song come up with a little bit
of an intro. This is so through composed that it almost
disappears for people. Mark Mancina’s job was enormous. Was huge. So when we sat down, the three of us, Lebo,
Mark and myself, and you know, worked with Tim and Elton as well, but they were across
the sea, so there was this back and forth. But to organize it musically was with Lebo
and Mark, and to really figure out how to go from one scene to another and what are
the transitions? And Lebo was a huge part of that, because
the chorus is used a lot as scenes change. It is absolutely through composed, and it’s
an incredible score that way, because there’s so much action. How many musicals have, you know, these kinds
of cataclysmic events going on? Yeah. I think, even more importantly, after sitting
with Julie the first two days — I think we ended up staying in New York for a week or
so. (HE AND JULIE LAUGH) But one of the most important
things that we realized, me and Mark, is that this is going to be something that is very
unique, even though we absolutely have no background in theatre. Just by, look, I mean, Julie had all kinds
of pieces of papers at her house, and “This is going to be Scar’s.” “Okay, okay, so where does the music fit
in here?” (LAUGHTER) So we had to find ourselves in
her space and then incorporate everything. So we set out to see Broadway shows, while
we were in in New York, and I think after the first one, during intermission, we looked
at each other and said, “We gotta go, no more Broadway shows!” (LAUGHTER) Because what we learned from that
immediately is that, one, we’re going to have probably the most unusual orchestra setting
in the history of Broadway, and we ended up with one exactly like that. Two, the music we’re going to do or be involved
with, the approach is going to be very different from what is the norm on Broadway. We are going to need a very unique conductor,
who is also a creative person, because everyone in this whole company of people is creative,
including the producers. It’s one of those situations where I’ve
been involved with, where you have producers that are very creative people, which was a
plus, in this case. So from then on, we set out not to see any
more Broadway shows, because we don’t want to be influenced by the normal thing and we
knew we were coming from a different background. Second, it was important, I guess, to us,
because we did not have theatrical experience. I had, with SARAFINA, I did the national tour
of SARAFINA, but not as a creative person, as a cast member. So those are very important elements for us
creatively, because from then on, we knew we had to do everything different from what
is done on Broadway. I was involved in casting singers. I was involved in having to get the orchestra
together. We interviewed probably the best conductors
and ended up with who we thought, and fortunately we were lucky to get him, Joe Church, who
was really the best person we talked to. We knew that two minutes after we walk in,
whereas other people we spend half an hour interviewing. So we needed a personality, a creative conductor,
and a musician type of conductor, not a normal Broadway conductor with a bow tie. (LAUGHTER) If such a thing exists! Really, does such a thing even exist any more! Yeah. Well, we saw one. I don’t know which show this was. Which is good. But you saw the one. Yes. (LAUGHTER) It’s good, but it gave us a point
of reference to start from, and a direction not to take, to make this unique. And as you move now from music to money, where
do they come in? Money? Money. You want to talk about the money? Money, money. Production. Well, clearly, if you want to talk about that
— Press agent, advertising, company manager,
general manager, where do they all fall in place? Well, with anything, one first has to create
the art and have something great. And then the second challenge, of course,
is to place it in the marketplace in an intelligent manner, that people actually want to come
see it. And to that end, we turned to two companies. One is Serino Coyne, which Rick Elice is our
creative director on and has been great. What does he do? You mean, me personally? Yeah, what do you do, Rick? And Chri Boneau is our press agent. So there’s two aspects of selling a movie. One is the advertising and the paid stuff
— Movie. Play! Musical. And the other one is the press. So? Well, Chris should go first, because Chris
was there first. Well, can we just back up a little bit? Because what happened is we had to announce
the project after BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. And that was a hit, and Tony Award and all
that stuff. But there was this sort of skepticism about
Disney. You know, you can’t say “Disney” without
people doing a couple of things, either rolling their eyes (LAUGHTER), or you know, running
for the theme park, which is a good thing. Really? Yeah! (LAUGHTER) And when these guys came in, which
is a whole new regime, which is great, and the thing you need to know about these guys
is, not only are they very smart and they’re fun to work with, but they’re from the theatre. They started in the theatre, non-profit theatre. And they bring a lot of enthusiasm about the
theatre, and they bring enormous resources. So we were getting ready to announce “the
next project,” and there was all this talk about what it would be. And Ward Morehouse, our friend at the New
York Post, announced that it was going to be THE LION KING. And I have to admit, I was in the skepticism
camp, because I thought, “How are we going to do that?” And I’m sure the same thing everybody thought. Mine was a different one, “How are we going
to be taken seriously?” And when we announced it, or when people started
sneaking it, they did the thing we hated, which is they ran stills of the movie, you
know, the Mufasa big old lion thing. And we thought, “Oh, no, people are going
to think this is phone-head time. It’s going to look like the theme park.” And nothing is wrong with the theme park. Nothing wrong with the theme park! (LAUGHTER) I agree! Mr. Eisner will send you a note! Okay? Yeah, he will. I can assure you, you’ll get the note! He’s had one! (LAUGHTER) So when they mentioned Julie Taymor, I went
over to see JUAN DARIEN, and thought, “Well, yeah, this is a great decision.” And what we were able to do was announce this
project along with Julie. And the press, you know we have to remember
the press all the time, they all sat back and said, “Well, that’s a risk! That’s going to be an interesting choice.” And then they let us go away for a while. (JULIE LAUGHS) We announced it, we left it
alone, Julie went off and did her work. And the first thing we decided was, don’t
send out pictures of what we’re going to try to do. Don’t try to describe it. And it’s the thing that Peter kind of came
up with before we got to Minneapolis, “People can’t write about it until they’ve come
to see us.” And it was the best rule that I had, and it’s
actually informed the way I do my business now, which is, do the work before you come
and see it. Because you know, if you say, “We’re going
to do THE LION KING on stage,” everyone has their own idea of what it’s going to
look like. But until you go to the New Amsterdam, you’re
not prepared for what you’re going to see. And it was the smartest thing, I think, on
our side, we got to do, which is let the work speak for itself. Introduce Julie to the public. Let Peter and Tom get out to meet the folks
in the community, understand that they are part of the theatre. They weren’t coming in to try to take over
the theatre, they just were happy to be here. We didn’t do much in Minneapolis, other
than work on the show. No, right. We didn’t milk the press at all. The other big thing is, we went to Minneapolis
as an out of town tryout, which I think is very important when you develop new shows. And the one comment we got over and over again
in Minneapolis is, A, “You’re not advertising,” and B, “There’s not much hype.” And we kept saying, “But we don’t care
to spend the money on the advertising, because it’s nice that people come see it, but we’re
not there to actually have full houses. We’re not there to make money. We’re there to look at the work on stage
and it’s nice to have an audience to respond, which we did have. Which we always had an audience. We had an audience. We just weren’t overspending or trying to
spend too much time and attention on gathering an audience. Because it was an eight week run, and we’ll
be gone in eight weeks. And what we knew we were trying to do is get
the show right, just focus our energy on the show, and come to New York with it. Right. So, it was a interesting strategy, and it
was really Rick and Nancy Coyne at Serino Coyne that then came and tried to figure out
how to advertise that and place that in amongst a very competitive [season]. So you came first, and then came Nancy and
Rick. Right. I had very much the same reaction, having
seen BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, having understood what I thought was, as Tom described it, “the
Disney mandate” for the theatre. And so, when word got out that Julie Taymor
was going to be connected to THE LION KING, my reaction, not just as a theatre friendly
human being but as a consumer, was “No, no, this is like a misprint!” (LAUGHTER) I mean, I’d been to HAGADDAH
and I’d been to GREEN BIRD and I’d been to JUAN DARIEN, and I thought, “They would
never risk that, because it’s risky.” And risk to me, as a human being, is exciting. And I thought, “Wow, this is sort of exciting,
and as a consumer, I’m interested in things that are exciting. As an advertiser, I like to exploit that excitement
that I feel as a consumer. And I thought, “Oh, this could be kind of
neat.” Now, Nancy Coyne, my mentor and boss who runs
the agency, was not familiar with Julie’s work. So I said, “Go out to Minneapolis and see
this and come back and let’s talk about whether this is something that we really want
to go after.” And she came back with this big smile on her
face and she said, “You know, this is very, very, very different from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,
and there is a great challenge here.” As advertisers who’ve been doing this for
a long time, Nancy for 25 years and me for 17 years, what excites us after all these
years is a new challenge. And this actually felt like a new challenge,
which was we got to take this two men, who are at the top of their form, at the peak
of their careers, and frighten them a little bit. (LAUGHTER) This is the top? (LAUGHTER) We’re at the top? This is as good as it gets. I keep telling you, it’s all downhill from
here. In ten years, you’ll be sitting watching
this video, “He was right.” (LAUGHTER) I gotta go now. (LAUGHTER) It was an opportunity to put a scare into
them. So we invited them over, never having met
them before, and we said, “Listen, you know, there’s something that you’re not doing
that you ought to do.” And that was, “We feel that you are going
at this, and you’re missing a couple of steps, in terms of the life of this show called
THE LION KING.” Audience-wise. Audience-wise. About getting to an audience. In most cases, you know, our concern is, “How
are we going to run for a year? Or how are we going to run for two years? How are we going to get through next September,
October, when there’s the dip for the fall? How are we going to get through next January
and February, when everyone’s afraid to buy tickets in advance, because maybe it’s
going to be snowing?” Suddenly, we were confronted with something
that really had the opportunity to run a long time. I mean, a long time, because people twenty
years from now ought to be able to see what THE LION KING is as much as people this weekend
ought to be able to see it. Twenty! (LAUGHS) Yeah, twenty years. I mean, that’s a reasonable goal. (LAUGHTER) So, you know, we thought, “In
order for that to happen, in order to maximize the longevity of this product, how are we
gonna do it? Here’s what you guys may not understand,
or here’s what you may not have thought of.” And that is that the evolution of an audience
has to happen in a certain sequence, and that if you go out of sequence, you can’t go
back and pick up the first audience. And in order for a show to run as long as
THE LION KING deserves to run — I mean, you see, just listening to these people talk,
it’s such a privilege to be in an environment where people talk in this creative way, talk
about authenticity and sort of chew words around in a way that, you know, it’s impossible
to be cynical around people like this! Oh, try, try! Go try! Oh, we can be cynical. We can be very cynical, Rick! (LAUGHTER) He took a happy pill today! (LAUGHTER) We said, “But listen, you know, here’s
the thing. You can’t go for the family tourist audience
right off the bat, because if you do that, you can never go back and get the avid theatregoers
who will add years to the life of the show. You can’t go back and get them, if you’ve
missed them the first time around. So what you have to do is, forget that you’re
Disney for a while.” My little mantra became, every decision that
I would pitch to these guys, I would think, “It’s not ‘Disney presents THE LION
KING,’ it’s ‘The Royal Shakespeare Company presents THE LION KING.’ If it were that, what would we be doing? How would we be presenting ourselves, and
to whom would we be presenting ourselves, and in what form would we be presenting ourselves? What would we tell them? What would we not tell them? What would we show? What would we never show?” And that became sort of our strategy that
we pitched to these guys, and fortunately for us, they called us the next day and said,
“Let’s go out for dinner and talk about how we would do this.” And what happened that was wonderful was that
everything we’ve opposed, we’ve turned out not to be able to do because the show
was such an enormous commercial success, that that changed everything. And therefore, our only job was to take the
lack of availability of tickets (LAUGHTER) and try to be as helpful as possible in the
dispensing of tickets at a later date, to make it as easy and courteous and speedy as
possible. To really actually be sort of public service
oriented in our advertising. Well, I think you’re being very modest,
because — How do you do that? Well, you take ads that don’t look like
the show’s taking them. For example, the day after the show opened,
we were very concerned about how we would accommodate the demand. I mean, imagine being in a business that’s
so stupid that you have to actually turn away more people than you can accommodate. And there’s no guarantee that they’re
going to come back and buy your product some other time. They may just go across the street. They may decide to go out to dinner and not
go to the theatre at all. So I mean, imagine being told, “Well, we
can only service this many customers during a 24 hour period. We can’t accommodate more demand than this
much. What do we do?” Well, we decided we would try to open twice
as many windows at the box office. We decided we would bring a van of telephone
operators outside the theatre to accommodate the overflow. We would amuse and entertain and give bonuses
to people who would be willing to wait on line for hours and hours and hours. And to answer your question, we took an ad
that for the first time listed the locations of Ticketmaster outlets. A simple thing, but it had never been done,
because everyone just figured, “Well, you know, Ticketmaster outlets, it’s just a
couple of dollars a day, why bother?” We took a big ad that actually listed all
the Ticketmaster locations, the outlets in the New York City greater metropolitan area. Knowing that the box office could not accommodate
more than a certain number of people during their hours, we wanted to be able to accommodate
many more people than that. So we actually drove business in other directions,
very, very simply. This was not a big, schmaltzy ad in color
or anything. We just said, “In order to make your ticket
purchase as easy as possible,” assuming that people are already interested in buying,
that we didn’t need to do any selling, we just needed to make them available. “You might want to save some time by going
to the drugstore on the corner and buying your tickets there, as opposed to coming to
42nd Street, waiting on line for eight hours, and then perhaps being disappointed.” How many seats do you have? How large a house is it? 1800 and change. 1801, roughly. What is your ticket price? Our top ticket price is $75. It goes down. And what do you go down to? Twenty-five. Do you have any family or senior citizen or
student [discounts]? No, we don’t. You don’t. No, not per se, but the fact that there is
a price scale at the New Amsterdam Theatre is not as common as may be understood. There are many theatres on Broadway where
the price for the first row of the orchestra is the same price as the last row in the mezzanine. The New Amsterdam Theatre has a price scale. So if you have some money to spend, but not
necessarily $75, it is still possible for you to sit in the theatre and see the show. And I’ve got to tell you that it’s also
one of those rare occasions where if you sit upstairs in what are known as the seats that
aren’t so great, you actually see the show and experience the show in a profound way,
in the same way you do if you’re in tenth row center. And that, we all know, is not necessarily
the case across the board, either. It’s really the theatre design. Somebody walked upstairs in this theatre and
looked at it, before the audience came in. (LAUGHS) Probably three or four or five times,
and probably brought some other people with her. And moved over there, and moved over there,
and moved over there. That also has to do with the way the show
itself is created. I mean, just from a design point of view,
and certainly from Julie’s direction and staging. She’s created this event, and you do experience
it very differently throughout the theatre. And Garth’s choreography is that way. And it’s much like if you’re a dance fan,
how you enjoy moving around the theatre. Because I’d always rather watch dance from
the mezzanine than I would from the orchestra section. It’s my own choice, you know, to see the
patterning. What you see in this show changes and shifts
within the theatre. Also, if you haven’t been to the New Amsterdam
Theatre, it is one of the old theatres of Broadway. It’s been restored, and it’s a beautiful,
intimate space to be in. I think it has a great character and a great
soul. And I think it adds to the experience. The whole blending of the theatre and the
theatre piece is all one. You’re not walking into one of the new large,
commercial theatres. You know, it was built in 1924? 1917? 1903. 1903. And restored, and it’s a wonderful experience
just to come to the theatre. When in the process did the theatre and the
show come together? I mean, did Disney make the commitment on
the New Amsterdam before THE LION KING became a [plan]? Yeah. Not that much. No, we were still deciding what was going
to go in it. But it was right after BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,
we decided to start renovating the theatre, and decided to do a historical restoration,
under the direction of Hugh Hardy (PH) and commit to that. And very shortly thereafter, we knew that
THE LION KING was going to go into it. And it’s a luxury as a producer to go out
of town and to know what your theatre is and to know it’s waiting for you when you actually
— When you want it, when you need it. When you want it. Tom said a second ago the word “event,”
which you kind of can’t take lightly on this show. I mean, what happened in Minneapolis is that
we kind of all over beer at night realized that we had an event. I mean, some journalists from New York were
coming in to see it, and people were reporting back just ecstatic things. And my job is to court the press and to take
a lot of pictures of the show and take a lot of video. And we were in a position of actually sitting
around rooms going, “Nope, we’re not going to use that! We’re not going to use that!” And I was, you know, getting horrified. I thought, “I’m not going to be able to
do my job!” And then Peter said to me, “You know what? We’ll just show ‘em a little bit. What if we say no? What if we say we’re not going to use that
picture?” And it wasn’t arrogant, it was just protecting
the integrity of the show. That showing somebody with a big ol’ thing
on their head, or a person dressed as a blade of grass (JULIE LAUGHS), which is beautiful
in the show, but out of context you go, “What is that?” And we didn’t want to ruin what we kind
of started feeling was going to be an event by having people think, “I’ve already
seen it.” So we wanted the element of surprise. And the only way to do that, and Rick and
Nancy were great about that, they came in and said, “Chris, no! No, Peter’s right. Don’t show it, don’t show it.” So we have maybe three pictures (LAUGHS) and
two minutes of video. It’s hard to be that brave. But we had to be brave. You know, it’s hard to walk away from the
things that you, ordinarily, would kill to get. Right. That kind of press attention, you know, where
everybody’s calling, where we have all these opportunities. But you have to say, “You know what? In terms of the long term, stay on strategy.” You know, the marketing term. To say “on strategy” is to say “keep
the long run in mind.” And everything was done in terms of the long
run here. So that we’re playing the cards very close
to the table, not to be obnoxious about it, but to be theatrical about it. This is a piece of theatre that exists in
the theatre, on the stage and in the environment of the theatre. And it is an intense enough experience to
maintain the integrity of that. Well, you know people call every day, they
say, “Well, we want you to come out to Bryant Park and we want you to bring some of the
animals with you.” And we’re like, “No, no, no, wait. They’re actors. They’re actors playing a character. (LAUGHTER) They just happen to be an animal. So we can’t, no, no.” And you know, the Today show, yes, but we
can’t come out and perform with Matt and Katie, because it just doesn’t work that
way. And you have to every day say no. And it’s hard, when you’re in my job,
to say no, because I hate the word “no.” Where do you go from here? You talked about marketing, you just threw
that word away. Are you doing a lot of marketing? Well, we have the very interesting position,
we’re now sitting here in April, and we’re basically sold out through the end of the
year. In fact, it’s very hard to get a ticket. You can get tickets, there are tickets available
every day. There are returns and cancellations and standing
room. But to get tickets, you know, four great ones
together, you’re going out at least nine months, maybe a year. And therefore, the challenge, I think, the
marketing challenge, is how to convince people to buy the tickets now for future. See, that’s the enigma. Because you want to maintain a presence, because
you need to be alive. And yet, the way most people have created
a presence is by advertising to sell more tickets, which we don’t right now have a
lot of. So then what are you doing, from a press and
a marketing position, to keep the show alive, to keep it in the consciousness? Clearly, every night when there’s a performance,
all those people burst out of the theatre and they’re talking about it, and they’re
telling people about it, and that’s a thing. And you know, there are appearances. This is the week of the annual Rainforest
Benefit that Sting and Trudy Stuyler do. So the company was on, Lebo performed, we
were at that. So there are certain things you can get. But to keep the show alive, it’s not about
advertising, because then you’re just throwing money [away]. Because advertising would create a negative
impression with the audience. Right. Which is, “Why are they telling me to go
to see the show, when I can’t go to see the show?” And so, you get this irritation factor, and
we don’t want to irritate anybody, we just want to keep the show going. Any more than we do in general. (LAUGHTER) You know, this is a phenomenon. There hasn’t been this kind of demand for
a Broadway show maybe ever. And people don’t know to buy a year in advance,
because they don’t think you’re going to be there. Well, I don’t think anybody’s comfortable
buying a year in advance on things, you know? Where am I going to be on April 13, 1999? Well, actually, you and I know. We work in animation. (LAUGHTER) I appreciate that! So where are you going to be twenty years
from now, on that twenty year run that he was talking about? Well, I think, you know, the technology of
Broadway, i.e., the computer, the phone systems, the ability to use credit cards, have fundamentally
changed the way Broadway has sold tickets. And that’s a recent phenomenon. It used to be you could only put twelve weeks
of tickets on. Because you’ve got to rack them. Because you could only rack twelve weeks of
tickets at a time, and you’d do that, and it’d be all mail order. Now, it’s all about telephones and credit
cards and computers. And as we get more sophisticated on line — one
of the big strategies we had was buying tickets on line — we sold so many tickets on line
that the idea of the longevity of shows really takes advantage of new marketing opportunities. THE LION KING is actually breaking new ground,
aside from what’s happening in the theatre. Because, as he said, the demand here is extraordinary
enough so that things are being done that have never been done before. So we’re really actually striking out into
virgin territory here. We’re not quite sure if we’re doing the
right thing, but we’re trying lots of things to see. And a lot of shows that have yet to be done
are going to benefit from what THE LION KING experience is here, shows that are fortunate
enough to be successful in this way. What’s the biggest contribution, do you
think, that THE LION KING has made to the theatre? To the theatre, not the technology. Are you asking me? I’ll go. (LAUGHTER) Take it, Ted! No, no, no, I want Rick to answer. Please answer that question, Ted! Rick’s going to answer it. It seems to me that these days adults have
a suspicion about themselves and about their children. The watching of television and the playing
of video games and the going to films has eliminated something that is essential to
our nature as human beings, which is the ability to imagine. And exercising that muscle, the muscle of
the imagination, is as vital as any muscle that you would exercise in the gym. It’s just that you go to the theatre to
exercise it. Nancy Coyne is fond of saying that there’s
never been a kid who’s gone to see a show in a theatre that has shown up at school the
next day carrying a gun. And I think that it’s probably true, although
we have no way of knowing. But I know, as a human being who experienced
THE LION KING, I was very, very happy to have the opportunity to flex that muscle of imagination
and to be in the presence of creative people who had done that flexing before me, for me
to behold in such a profound way, in a way that sort of turns the theatre into almost
kind of a ritual experience, which is what the theatre is. It’s not that Julie has invented new things. She’s taken old forms and put them on stage. And hundreds of years from now, these forms
will still be used in the theatre. The theatre is what survives of our history
as human beings. The oldest documentaries we have are the plays
from the ancients, you know? So it made me feel part of a chain. I think, if I may answer that also, for me,
what THE LION KING has brought on Broadway or theatre, as an outsider — or now, formerly
an outsider, ‘cause now I’m here — I think it has brought a universality of art
and theatre to Broadway, which I’m made to understand and through some little experience
here, that it has really been a very close community with very limited access for outside
theatre co-productions. I think that’s important, because what THE
LION KING represents as a story, it’s a very universal story, even though it’s centered
around Africa. So for me, it brings two elements. The fact that you can bring a project from
Africa or about Africa and make the biggest story or headlines in New York, which is pretty
much in the American context, unthinkable, because Africa is a “dark” continent,
like THE LION KING was, in other people’s perspective. THE LION KING did that in movie theatres,
and it did that on Broadway, too. But I think creatively, it’s brought a new
important element of theatre, and that is, the world has become so small, and New York
is truly a melting pot for people from other various cultures in the world, and that there’s
a new element of appreciation for different cultures. I think that it’s terribly exciting, what
you’ve done. And you know that I feel that way, and I go
on record with that. But I have ask, why does the ticket price
have to be so high? I know everything that’s there, but one
of the things that we keep hearing all the time from people is, “I love the theatre,
I want to go to theatre, but I no longer can afford to go to the theatre.” Or “I can’t take my family to the theatre
because it is so important.” We need the theatre for the family, as much
as you’re talking about that twenty year run, for the family to be able to go ahead
and keep going to the theatre and each child to take their child to the theatre and be
able to afford it. Isn’t there a way of having tickets less
expensive, more affordable, more available than that? When you have an enormous hit, can you then
take some of it apart and say, “Let’s do this for bringing in people to the theatre”? That’s a very good question. Again, I want to stress that there’s a great
range of ticket prices. So I think $25 is a terrific bargain going
to the theatre today. Not enough people know that there’s a $25
ticket. That’s a really important thing. Well, I think the reverse of that is that
most people want the best tickets and the seats. Yeah. That is the interesting thing, and if you
look at opera today, opera is $200. So the question is, is the pricing scale correct? Should we be charging $150 for those five
rows of the best seats, and scale down from them, changing the economic model, which is
that people will pay $150 for those five rows of seats and they can afford to. And there are always people that would pay
for that. Will pay for that. And then change those prices. I think that’s true. And there’s always an inverse ratio between
the availability of tickets and the price of tickets. Because you can’t find an expensive ticket. The only tickets that you can find are the
less expensive tickets in the theatre. So when we say, “We’re virtually sold
out,” the ones that are available are the seats at the lower ticket prices. So the question really is, can we, on Broadway
today, re-look at the economic models? And yet, you get such tremendous press about
it. I think RENT just raised their price by five
dollars. In an effort to lower the other prices. But they were crucified for that! And I think the dilemma today is, the costs
keep rising. The unions — Well, but what I find shocking is that you
can go to a play that’s got four characters or three characters and no set changes, and
it’s almost the same price. Yeah, that’s true. I mean, it seems to me that, you know, you
do have to scale [prices]. It costs a lot to run THE LION KING. There’s a lot of people. There’s a hundred people backstage. So you know, what I find absurd is you go
to ART or you go to a one man show or something, you’re up there paying $50 for a ticket
price. At the same time, we’re doing a couple of
outreach things. On July 4th, we’ve donated the house to
various people, and we’re trying to find ways to do all these developmental things,
because I think it’s very important, I think. Yeah, to get young children. Bringing children into the theatre, which
I think is fundamental about the next generation. The children who can’t pay. Children, and people who can’t afford to
pay. It’s fundamentally important, if we want
the next generation of artists to develop and to appreciate the theatre. I wanted to make an observation. It’s half answering that question. From my standpoint, when this show opened
here, the first thing that I heard was the inside theatre crowd, who as all of you know,
are not necessarily the most charitable people. As you talk about, it’s a closed group. They’re not the most charitable group. They were blown away by what THE LION KING
was, because I think it tapped something in them, that they had to be reminded what the
theatre was all about. And I remember one person in particular said
to me, “Put your Rodgers and Hammerstein hat away. Go, become four years old, just wallow in
the whole thing.” The other thing I find extraordinary is the
collaboration of the Disney name, the people who actually are Disney Theatrical these days,
and an American talent that I believe has been supported by the National Endowment for
many, many years. It’s a connection that I think people haven’t
made, and I think it’s a rather important connection to make, because the National Endowment
supported this woman’s work for years. And everybody sort of felt, “Well, but isn’t
it sort of you take care of yourself and you’ll find someone to pay for it?” And in a funny way, yes and no. Because you know, they allowed your talent
to grow and expand, and we all reaped the end result. Without the National Endowment and the not-for-profit
theatre movement, Tom and I wouldn’t be here today. Right. I spent fifteen years of my life in that world,
raising money, working at theatres that use Endowment money to create art. And I think it is a crime in this country
that the arts are not taken as seriously as they should be, that our funding is challenged,
and that we are not re-investing back in the communities in terms of art, whether it be
theatre, dance, music, playwriting, poetry. It is fundamentally important in this country,
and I feel that the arts policy has gotten lost someplace in the agenda for our governments. What do you feel about that? Well, I feel there would be no LION KING without
the National Endowment for the Arts, because it’s okay for Disney to take a chance with
an artist like me when it’s THE LION KING. I’m not sure they would have done it with
my own work. I know they wouldn’t have. And that’s obvious, and they would say the
same thing. That they put something that was very safe,
very commercial, that already had an audience, together with an artist. You have to go and look at Theatre for a New
Audience, Music-Theatre Group, La MaMa, the Public. Anyplace else that I worked which did projects
like JUAN DARIEN or TITUS ANDRONICUS or THE GREEN BIRD or anything that doesn’t jump
out and reek of “safe” right off the bat is where you hone your work as an artist. If I hadn’t had the kind of fellowship support
or whatever to develop these various ways of thinking about theatre and creating, how
would I have all the skills necessary to do something, to give these guys (SHE LAUGHS)
the confidence to put the money behind and let me do it? I feel like you can’t cut that place out,
because there’s got to be people who are younger than I am, who need to have that time
to really experiment and to really play and find their voice as artists. And it isn’t going to be in the large commercial
arena. They’re not going to get there yet. That’s risky! They had seen enough else, other things, to
say, “Okay, she hasn’t done this, but look what she’s done. Now, if we put these two together, that’s
interesting.” But it’s not going to be — I was interesting
before I did anything, probably! (LAUGHTER) But I wouldn’t have had the skills! (APPLAUSE) But I’m sure somewhere, you know,
I had something there! I’d have to go back and look at my first
work. But literally, I wouldn’t have had the experience. It’s purely about having the experience
and having also the variety, which I am so concerned about. I mean, you want Broadway to have Rodgers
and Hammerstein and you want Broadway to have SARAFINA or to have THE LION KING. You want that world, and you’ve got to be
able to keep all these theatres alive. And you need to give people support to do
that. So yeah, it’s devastating that people would
think you could do without the National Endowment and let the big companies support, because
they’re not going to do that. It’s not going to happen. Because it needs to be risk-free, totally
not-for-profit, in order to have that experimentation happen. On that note, I’m going to have to — (APPLAUSE)
I’ll applaud you on that, too. (APPLAUSE) And also, I’m going to have to
draw this to a close. And I think that bringing THE LION KING to
42nd Street has been one of the most exciting experiences that we can possibly have on Broadway. And we of the Broadway industry, the Broadway
family, salute you, Disney, for doing it and doing all the things that you have done in
New York and on Broadway. And this is our seminar on the Production,
and it’s the very talented, knowledgeable people that are behind the production THE
LION KING. And I can’t thank them enough for coming
here and sharing their time, their knowledge, their expertise with us, at the American Theatre
Wing seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” coming to you from the Graduate Center of
the City University of New York. This is just one of the many programs, year-round,
of the American Theatre Wing. Thank you all for coming. (APPLAUSE)

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