'The Lion King' becomes king of Broadway box office

Monday, 09 April 2012 02:14 PM Written by  Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK (AP) — Very quietly, almost stealthily, a new king has been inaugurated on Broadway. Box office figures to be released later today show that “The Lion King” last week swiped the title of Broadway’s all-time highest grossing show from “The Phantom of the Opera,” The Associated Press has learned.
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The cumulative gross for “The Lion King” is $853,846,062, according to the show’s numbers. Its chandelier-swinging rival’s cumulative total is $853,122,847, according to musical’s publicist. The “Lion King” surged past “Phantom” after netting over $2 million at the box office for the week ending Sunday, while “Phantom” pulled in about $1.2 million.
What makes the achievement all the more remarkable is that “The Lion King” chased down and grabbed the title despite “Phantom” having almost a full 10 years’ head start. The Disney show opened in November 1997, while “Phantom” debuted in January 1988. The upstart’s victory is due in large part to its higher average ticket prices and a slightly larger theater.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Cary Ginell, a music historian and biographer who edited the seventh edition of “Broadway Musicals: Show By Show.” He compares “The Lion King” to a Disneyland ride.
“It’s a spectacle that satisfies on many different sensory elements — audio, visually, emotionally. It’s also good for all ages — just like Disneyland is. For the kids, it’s the visual elements — the colors, the costumes and the puppetry. For the adults, it’s ‘Hamlet,’ basically. And the music is not geared to one age or gender or race. It’s as universal a show can get.”
Disney Theatrical Productions was gracious when contacted about reaching the milestone, saluting “Phantom” song writer Andrew Lloyd Webber and “Phantom” producer Cameron Mackintosh, who also co-produced Disney’s hit “Mary Poppins,” and calling their show “a global phenomenon of historic proportions.”
Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions, also gave credit to Julie Taymor, the director, costume and mask maker of “The Lion King.” “Her vision, continued commitment to the show and uncommon artistry account for this extraordinary success,” he said in a statement.
The Broadway League has slightly different numbers, putting the cumulative gross of “The Lion King” at $851,956,963 and “Phantom” at $851,859,966 as of April 1. Later today, they will release numbers for the week of April 8. The League in 2009 changed the way it calculates grosses, which may explain the discrepancy. None of the figures are adjusted for inflation.
To be sure, “Phantom,” now in its 24th year, is still the longest-running show in Broadway history, with more than 10,000 performances and it has sold many more tickets than its Disney rival on the Great White Way, a staggering 14.8 million so far. In comparison, “The Lion King” looks like a pup: It is the sixth longest-running show on Broadway with over 5,900 performances over 14 years and has sold just over 10 million tickets.
“The Lion King” may now have won on Broadway, but “Phantom” is still a juggernaut elsewhere. Its producers have even declared it the most successful entertainment venture of all time, with revenues higher than any film, including “Titanic,” “Star Wars” and “Avatar.” The total worldwide grosses for “Phantom” are estimated at over $5.6 billion, while the worldwide haul for “Lion” is $4.8 billion. “Phantom” has also been seen by 130 million people worldwide, while “Lion” puts its number at 64 million. Those gaps may also close: “The Lion King” has seven — soon eight — productions worldwide, while “Phantom” has seven productions around the world: London, New York, Hungary, Japan, South Africa, Las Vegas and a UK tour.
H. Todd Freeman, vice president of operations at ticket broker Applause Theatre & Entertainment Service, Inc., said the success of “The Lion King” is due to its family draw, big visuals and ticket prices that were double those for “Phantom” when it started.
The two share some attributes: Both have musical giants behind them: “Phantom” has songs by Lloyd Webber and is directed by Harold Prince, while “The Lion King” features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice and the vision of Taymor. Both have multiple Tony Awards, movie tie-ins, simple-to-understand stories and are spectacles — important for attracting tourists whose command of English might be weak. Both are not dependent on having stars on stage. And both call home in similar-sized theaters, “Phantom” at the 1,605-seat Majestic and “Lion” at the 1,677-seat Minskoff.
The staying power of each is remarkable. Over their first 750 playing weeks — which “The Lion King” has recently reached — they’ve played to roughly the same number of people: “The Lion King” at 10,092,235 and “Phantom” at 9,241,333.

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