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The Lion King Opens in South Africa Tonight

Disney's The Lion King opens tonight in South Africa at the new Montecasino Teatro in Johannesburg.  Preview performances have so far been welcomed by cheering and standing ovations from capacity crowds.  Guests tonight include Deputy President, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Oprah Winfrey with students of her Girls' Academy, and Robert A. Iger, President and CEO, The Walt Disney Company. The South African premiere celebrates and kicks-off the 10th Anniversary of the opening The Lion King on Broadway, which will be celebrated Sunday, November 11.

Produced by Thomas Schumacher, President, Disney Theatrical Productions, along with South African co-producers Lebo M, international recording artist and co-composer of The Lion King, and Pieter Toerien, veteran theatre producer, The Lion King is directed by Tony Award® winning director, Julie Taymor.  The production is supported by principal sponsor Telkom (SA Ltd) and media sponsor South African Broadcasting Corporation. 

The cast of the new production is entirely made up of South African performers, many of whom have been in other productions of The Lion King around the world and are now coming home to perform in their native country.  To date, The Lion King has employed almost 100 South Africans in its productions worldwide.  Also tonight, Deputy President Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka will dedicate the beautiful theatre built by Tsogo Sun.  The remarkable 1850-seat Teatro Montecasino was designed specially with The Lion King in mind and now South Africa has a new, state-of-the-art venue that will welcome Broadway and London shows for decades to come.

Press notes state, "The Lion King follows the adventures of lion cub Simba as he struggles to accept the responsibilities of manhood and his future role as king. The award-winning stage version of The Lion King made a spectacular debut when it opened on Broadway in 1997. Expanded from the blockbuster Disney film, the stage version amazed critics and audiences alike with its artistic achievements and stagecraft. The winner of over 70 major awards worldwide, The Lion King has garnered six 1998 Tony Awards including Best Musical, eight Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Musical, the Evening Standard Award for the Theatrical Event of the Year, two Olivier Awards, a Theatre World Award, the Astaire Award for Outstanding Choreography, two Drama League Awards and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album of 1998.  In addition to the Broadway production in New York City, The Lion King can also currently be seen in London, Hamburg, Tokyo, Seoul and two touring companies throughout the United States."

Telkom, production's principal sponsor, is also joining with The Walt Disney Company to make it possible for 38,000 children and teenagers to see the show free of charge. Twenty matinee performances will be performed exclusively for students from 40 schools in the area surrounding Johannesburg. The students will be taking part in a special theatre and music study program culminating in their visit to the show.

Director Julie Taymor, along with Michael Curry, created hundreds of masks and puppets for the show. The creative team includes choreography is by Garth Fagan, scenic design by Richard Hudson, costume design by Julie Taymor and lighting design by Donald Holder.  The book has been adapted by Roger Allers, who co-directed the animated film, and Irene Mecchi, who co-wrote the screenplay, with a score featuring Elton John and Tim Rice's music from the animated film, along with three new songs by John and Rice and additional musical material by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer.

Over the last 10 years, The Lion King has been seen by over 40 million people in nine countries.  The South African premiere launches a year that will also see the opening of a Paris production in October and the 10th anniversary on Broadway in November. The Lion King can also be seen in London, Hamburg, Tokyo, Seoul and two touring companies throughout the United States.

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