GOOD MORNING:With apologies to Al Jolson, “You ain’t read anythin’ yet.” Sure, you’ve seen the rave reviews about “The Lion King” now roaring at the Pantages, but let me tell you, you’ve got to be there to appreciate it. I had earlier caught the “King” on 42nd Street and allowed it was the best show I’d ever seen, but New York’s king of the jungle has to bow to this regal production for a special reason: the jungle fever caught by the L.A. audience. Opening night, the spirit moved the audience to an electrifying pitch from the first bars of music, the initial spotlight onstage, the “animal” parade down the aisles. In the aisle during the first intermission, Michael Eisner and I talked about the amazing spirit that enveloped the “King’s” new regal abode, the Pantages theater. Eisner marveled at the cast as a team — not only onstage but during all of the previews and rehearsals. And members of the cast offer backstage lessons in their specialties — dance, jazz, musical instruments. “They are like family,” noted Eisner of this, the sixth “Lion King” (And who knows how many more will be born?) … Eisner noted how this magnificent show at the east end of Hollywood will now add to the rebirth of the Boulevard — and Hollywood itself — along with the arrival soon of the Academy’s new theater, the El Capitan just west of Highland and the newly reborn Egyptian theaters. Eisner is completely bitten by the live-theater bug and extolled his company’s other spectacular stage musical in N.Y., “Aida.” He beamed at the way a show can improve with age, “whereas a movie — when it’s completed, that’s it.” He said the opening performance at the Pantages proved that point, as it outdid every previous night. Of course, the Pantages is no stranger to Disney: I’ve emceed many Disney movie premieres, like “Mary Poppins,” on that site over the years. But the Pantages never sparkled as it does now, thanks to the Nederlander Pantages polish. Eisner also grinned about another of the company’s “live” entertainments: EuroDisney, which has proven their foresight and will expand into a second park … Among the many who walked down the Pantages aisle at intermission to congrat Eisner were Sid and Marty Krofft, who call Eisner their “mentor.” He brought them to primetime when at ABC. “You started us,” said Marty. Puppet-master Kroffts will ask Eisner to bring back “Les Poupees de Paris” to the stage, with Michael Curry who designed the “Lion King” puppets and masks with Julie Taymor. (The Kroffts now also add a half-hour live-action comedy series, “The Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” at the WB net.)
LIZA MINNELLI WAS “LAUGHING,talking — up and feeling better,” when I checked with Fort Lauderdale’s Cleveland Clinic spokesman Jackie Weder on Monday. Liza is suffering from sporadic (noncontagious ) encethalitis, an infection that attacks brain cells. She is undergoing treatment. Monday, she was visited in the hospital by half-sister Gina Nina Minnelli … Maureen Reagan has been told by her doctors to “take it easy for the rest of the year,” husband Dennis Revell tells me. She underwent “fairly extensive and complicated surgery following major arterial aneurisms” … Johnny Carson celebrated his 75th birthday Monday and is feeling fine; he maintains the regimen following his quadruple bypass surgery in March 1999. While he continues to avoid appearances or interviews, he has taken to writing on his own and has penned “Proverbs According to Dennis Miller” in the Oct. 30 New Yorker. Samples: “A penny saved … if doubled every day for two months would be worth more than the combined GNP of the industrialized nations of the world.” Or, “A bird in the hand … is dead or alive, depending on one’s will” … Fred de Cordova, who produced the Carson show for decades, and had a career on B’way and in films, celebrates his 90th birthday Oct. 27. He is making progress following a stroke.
KIRK DOUGLAS HAS MADE miraculous progress since his stroke, and he spoke last night at the BevHills Library, doing a Q&A for the trade version (Simon & Schuster) of his book, “Climbing the Mountain” (four hardcover printings). It’s about his life since Feb. 13, 1991, “The most important day in my life,” sezze, when he survived a helicopter crash. He says he studies the Torah every week and admits, “The more I study, the less religious I am — but more spiritual.” His next book (three-quarters completed) is tentatively titled, “Life After a Brain Attack– or Sucking Up to God.” Kirk has never “pressured” his children about religion, but says son Michael has asked him to say the blessing over the bread after his marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones on Nov. 18 at the Plaza in N.Y. … It’s a Reiner family get-together at the Kennedy Center tonight when Carl receives the Mark Twain Award. On hand: wife Estelle; children Luke, Annie and Rob; brother Charles. John Schneider and Mark Krantz will produce the evening, which includes keynoter Jerry Seinfeld and G.E. Smith and the band … The History Channel’s “Diplomats for the Damned” preems Oct. 25 at the Academy in BevHills. Rabbi David Baron arranged this docu preem to be attended by children of diplomats who risked their lives to issue visas to Jews fleeing Nazism. The doc, which bows Nov. 26, was produced by Bram Roos. His Eminence Cardinal Francis George hosts the Chicago preem. Proceeds from the preems go for cassettes to be given to educators.