The Lion King Soundtrack

The West End and Broadway hit musical ‘The Lion King‘ has delighted people around the globe since the film opened at cinemas in 1994. The movie marked a new age for Walt Disney Studios, at the middle of the so called ‘Disney Renaissance Period’ which began with films such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989) and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) and ended with ‘Tarzan’ (1999). ‘The Lion King’ was one of the most successful movies of this period, and its subsequent success as a stage musical came as no surprise to fans of the film. Beginning Disney’s winning streak on Broadway, Director Julie Taymor created theatrical magic, the scale of which had not been seen on stage for many years. The innovative design and stunning visuals appealed to audience members, alongside the unforgettable story, resulting in a near-perfect piece of modern musical theatre.

Part of the appeal was down to the film’s epic soundtrack, which translated effortlessly onto the stage. Unlike other Disney musical films which had been created by composer Alan Menken who was no stranger to the Great White Way (‘Little Shop of Horrors’ had opened Off-Broadway in 1982 before a successful West End run 1983-5) ‘The Lion King’ boasted a score by pop-rock legend Elton John, who was more famous for his offstage theatricality. It was lyricist Tim Rice who suggested the pop star got on board with the project, after John had expressed an interest in writing ‘ultra-pop songs’ that appealed to both children and adults. He noted the skill of the Sherman brothers in their previous work for ‘The Jungle Book’ which had created songs that were memorable for adults yet accessible enough for children to sing along to. The producers took Rice’s recommendation and the pair went on to write five songs for the film, plus one number that was cut, before being reinstated in the Broadway show (‘The Morning Report’). Elton John took on a dual role in the soundtrack as both composer and performer, releasing his own versions of ‘The Circle of Life’ and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ which became firm standards to the film’s soundtrack.

‘The Lion King’ marked Elton John’s first venture into the world of film and musical theatre, a move that would later prove successful on other counts. After the success of the film’s soundtrack, peaking in the Billboard charts whilst helping the movie top box office grosses worldwide, Elton played a key part in transferring the film to the stage in 1998, developing the score by adding another set of songs including ‘The Madness of King Scar’ and ‘Chow Down’. Additional music came from Lebo M who provided the score with an authentic African sound, developed throughout rehearsals to enhance the pre-existing material. The final result extends the songs from the film into a full musical theatre score which incorporates both the English and Swahili language. Due to the success of Disney Theatricals, Elton John was hired to write the score for a new musical based on the opera ‘AIDA’. The show opened on Broadway in 1999, marking a first for the company as it was not based on a previous film. The show won a Tony Award for Best Score as well as the Grammy Award for Best Show Album. Despite the success of the musical, the show did not transfer to the West End, although it achieved a solid Broadway run of almost four years. For more information on Aida and Disney on Broadway, visit the official website.

Tim Rice had achieved a number of musical successes thanks to his early collaborative efforts with the young Andrew Lloyd Webber. Together the duo created the scores for ‘Joseph’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, and ‘Evita’ which continue to delight audiences around the world (the latter two shows have recently been revived in the same 2012 Broadway season).  Rice also collaborated with the boys from ABBA on the musical ‘Chess’ which continues to be reworked in productions around the world. Elton John and Tim Rice’s next project was for rival film studio Dreamworks whose 2000 animated movie ‘The Road to El Dorado’ was in need of a successful soundtrack. Hoping that lightning would indeed strike twice, the pair created the score of the film alongside Hans Zimmer and John Powell, but the movie failed to break even, despite the duo’s best efforts at writing a memorable soundtrack.

The pair continued to work on their own projects, both turning back to the medium of musical theatre. Elton John’s musical ‘Lestat’ was a financial and critical disaster, running on Broadway for only 39 performances. Based on the Anne Rice Vampire novels, the musical featured lyrics by John’s long time collaborator Bernie Taupin, but failed to make any form of impact. It was John’s collaboration with Lee Hall in 2005 that would solidify the singer’s contribution to musical theatre as ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ opened in London to a wave of praise and audience support. Based on the film of the same name, the musical told the story of a young dancer growing up in 1980s Durham amidst the backdrop of the Coal miner’s Strike. Elton’s score evoked a classic musical theatre sound which helped the show achieve success in both London and New York, where it went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. Elton released the song ‘Electricity’ into the charts to promote the show, peaking at Number 4 on the UK Chart.

Watch Elton John’s original video for ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’

Watch Elton John’s official video for ‘Electricity’ from ‘Billy Elliot’

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