Disney made a daring choice when it picked alumna Julie Taymor '74 to translate The Lion King, the most successful movie in the company's history, into a live Broadway stage production.
Taymor, who made her name in avant-garde theater, studied folklore and mythology at Oberlin and has made a specialty of introducing many of the mask and puppet techniques of Asian and African theater into Western productions. She has been directing her own work since she was 21, collecting major arts grants (McArthur "genius" and Guggenheim fellowships) and awards (Emmy and OBIE) during her career. She has won acclaim for her presentations of opera (Oedipus Rex), children's works (The Green Bird) and, last season, a Tony-nominated musical fable, Juan Darien. This will be her commercial theater debut.
When Tom Schumacher, Disney's executive vice president of theatrical productions, offered her the job two years ago, Taymor told him she wanted to go for elegance, not cute. Schumacher knew her work and thought it might be appropriate for the stage production. Indeed it was.
"In a remarkable kind of reverse anthropomorphism achieved through her use of masks and puppets and funky mechanical toys, Taymor has humanized every animal character in the story," wrote the Chicago Tribune's Richard Christiansen after a pre-Broadway tune-up in Minneapolis.
Serving as director of a company of 46 as well as the costume designer and mask/puppet co-designer for the production, she created more than 100 puppets, including rod, shadow, and full-size figures, ranging in size from a five-inch mouse to 26-foot flying giraffes and an elephant 13 feet long and 9 feet wide at the ears.
"The scenic, costuming, and choreographic wonders give the story an extra splendor and an added dimension that make it undoubtedly the most incredible combination of children's show ever conceived for the American theater," said Christiansen.
Featuring songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the probable megahit had its Broadway premiere Nov. 13 at the Disney-restored New Amsterdam Theater.-- by Betty Gabrielli
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