Le roi, c’est moi

The Lion King’s impact on Las Vegas, organized around its soundtrack

The Lion King: Looking to lend a hand to the Vegas economy.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Jacob Coakley

“Circle of Life” Just as Rafiki (he’s the monkey, mandrill, shaman, priest, whatever) holds up lion cub Simba to the adoring crowd at the start of the show, Disney and MGM Mirage now hold out The Lion King, promising a safe, fun show that’s powerful enough to bring families and their cash to Vegas. It’s the circle of marketing, as Vegas turns back to a “No, we’re really quite wholesome” vibe.

“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” At first glance, The Lion King seems to be a lock—this is a bulletproof musical that has survived on Broadway and the road for years (like other Vegas hits Mamma Mia! and Phantom), with a soundtrack that has global recognition (ditto), but also has enough visual pizzazz to give those who don’t care about the music or story something amazing to look at (like any Cirque show). And it’s at Mandalay Bay, right next to the two most family-friendly casinos on the Strip—Excalibur and Luxor. MGM can package tickets with great deals to families staying at their resorts, and parents can take the tram among all three venues, so they won’t even have to expose the kids to porn trading cards.

THE LION KING First Rehearsal

“Be Prepared” But just as Scar plotted to overturn Mufasa, there are a few factors MGM and Disney need to take into account. The success of the “What Happens Here Stays Here” ad campaign fueled the adult vision of Vegas almost exclusively, to the detriment of shows and other income streams in town. Witness the recent rash of corporate cancellations, because one can’t be seen spending money on debauchery in these times. Can The Lion King really overcome that? Does the presence of Disney immediately equal family-friendly?


From the Calendar
The Lion King is now playing in previews, and begins its regular engagement May 16.
From the Archives
Keeping kids entranced (and awake) crucial to The Lion King’s chances (5/6/09)
Las Vegas’ The Lion King a global, historical and emotional production (3/18/09)
The Lion King roars into Las Vegas (12/6/08)
Can you feel the length tonight? (12/31/08)
Beyond the Weekly
Lion King Las Vegas

“Hakuna Matata” On the other hand, Disney doesn’t seem to be worried about attracting an audience. They’ve even scheduled their national touring production of The Lion King to play prime California feeder markets for two months this year—once in Sacramento in June, and then in San Diego this fall. But are they in denial about what’s really going on? Especially since ...

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” The kids who grew up on The Lion King are in their 20s now. Do they really want to revisit their childhoods and see the show when they come to town? Musical-theater junkies have already seen the show, and we know what happened to the idea of Vegas as the new Broadway. Moreover, does it really still speak to kids and tweens in a High School Musical world? And do parents here on their own want to spend their time away from the kids watching a show they’ve seen a million times on DVD?

“King of Pride Rock”/“Circle of Life” (reprise) Both supporters and critics of Disney point to its presence in New York City’s Times Square, which helped change 42nd Street from a sketchy string of addicts, porn shops and dilapidated theaters into a haven for girls to scream outside the windows of MTV’s TRL (RIP). Looks like MGM and Disney are going for Round 2, to see just how much the Mouse can clean up the Rat Pack’s kingdom.


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