Broadway’s Biggest Hits Reopen In Festive Night Of Theater

Lindiwe Dlamini has spent 24 years of her life with “The Lion King.” She was with the show when it tried out in Minneapolis, and has been in the Broadway production for its entire run.

Needless to say, the last 18 months have been jarring, and she’s happy to be back.

“Oh, my God — it’s a huge one tonight,” she said. “I’m excited and anxious and every emotion you can think of. Mostly it’s really exciting to be back. We’ve been away a long time.”

In an industry that loves its superlatives, “The Lion King” has more than its share. It’s the highest-grossing show in Broadway history (nearly $1.7 billion) and its worldwide grosses (more than $9.3 billion) exceed those of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in history.

On Tuesday, it reopened, to a rapturous and packed house, with an audience that included alumni of Disney shows, a lot of fans, plus Gloria Steinem, Salman Rushdie and Kristin Chenoweth (who had a busy night, speaking earlier at the reopening of “Wicked,” where she had originated the role of Glinda).

“This is like water in a desert,” Chenoweth said in an interview during intermission at “The Lion King,” her mask glittering and her eyes moist. “If this isn’t an argument that art can change lives then I don’t know what is.”

The audience was rapturous, giving a standing ovation to the director Julie Taymor at the start of the show, and greeting each character, human or puppet, with another round of applause. “It was a miracle the first time — I think I saw it at least three times,” Steinem, whose life was the subject of a film Taymor directed, said in an interview. “And I think Julie Taymor can do anything.”

Taymor, in a speech to the audience before the show began, said she was appreciative of those who had braved a nerve-racking moment to come back to theater.

“I want to applaud this audience, tonight, our reopening, because you all have the desire, the enthusiasm, the courage to lead the way,” she said. “Because as we know theater in New York is the lifeblood and soul of the city.”

Many in the audience were repeat attenders (Taymor asked for a show of hands), but there were plenty of newbies, too. Heather Teta brought her two daughters, ages 9 and 6, to see it for the first time; on Sunday they were tested for the coronavirus because they’re too young to be vaccinated.

“We’ll do whatever we need to be back,” Teta said. “It’s reopening night — why wouldn’t we be here? And to come and support the Broadway community as well.”

The musical, which opened in 1997 (and won six Tony Awards, including best musical), is the third longest-running Broadway show (after “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Chicago”) and Dlamini is the only member of the original cast still performing in the show. She became an American citizen through the show (she is from South Africa), married another cast member and made a life around her work here; she is in the ensemble, and at the opening played a hyena, a lioness, a flock of birds and a square of savanna.

How was it being out of the show for the first time? “It was weird,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 24 years now, and to just stop out of nowhere! I was on a bus, on my way to work, when I got the call, and I had to get off at the next stop.”

The shutdown was also traumatic. Her husband, daughter, son and sister all got Covid (they recovered), and back in South Africa, a cousin and her husband died of the disease.

“I’ve been so worried about people back home, and I couldn’t go home and be with my family,” she said. “It was tough, and it was very emotional.”

And what was it like being back? “Really, really emotional,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of my life.”

“The Lion King” has over the years had 25 productions around the world that have played to nearly 110 million people; it has been performed on every continent (except Antarctica) and in nine languages (English, Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese).

All of nine productions running when the pandemic hit closed. With tonight’s Broadway reopening there are now five productions of “The Lion King” running, and by January there should be 10, in New York, London, Paris, Hamburg, Tokyo and Madrid plus four touring productions.

Michael Paulson

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/09/14/theater/broadway-reopening-shows-nyc

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