‘Lion King’ to roar in Vegas

Musical opening at Mandalay Bay in May '09

“The Lion King” will pounce on Vegas in the spring, with the legit tuner opening a sit-down production at the Mandalay Bay in May.

Unlike many Broadway musicals that play Sin City, “King” will be seen in its full-length, original version rather than a 90-minute cut. Show is set to occupy the theater soon to be vacated by “Mamma Mia!,” which wraps up a nearly six-year run there Jan. 4.

The Disney Theatrical production joins a local legit landscape that includes fellow Broadway vets “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Jersey Boys,” along with a slew of Cirque du Soleil offerings such as “O,” “Ka,” “Mystere” and “Love.”

Rialto shows have a mixed track record in Vegas, with some musicals carving out successful runs while others (such as “Avenue Q” and “Hairspray”) fail to attract crowds.

Tuners that last in the desert tend to be those with high global profiles like “Mamma” and “Phantom,” and in that respect “Lion King” has an advantage. Based on the 1994 Disney animated pic, the show nabbed six Tonys in 1997 and has gone on to play around the world, including current incarnations in London, Hamburg, Paris, Tokyo and Fukuoka, as well as a U.S. tour.

Less certain is how a family-friendly offering like “King” will play with the largely adult crowds that populate Vegas hotels and casinos.

According to David Schrader, managing director and chief financial officer of Disney Theatrical Prods., market research with Vegas tourists has suggested the gambit could work.

“A fair number of people who go to Vegas and see shows hadn’t seen ‘The Lion King,’ ” Schrader said. “It felt like there was an audience, and like there might be room for one family show.”

The road incarnation has never played within a 200-mile radius of Vegas, due to the lack of an appropriate venue for a large-scale touring show. Sin City version will be priced similarly to the road production — i.e., less than the $120 top ticket on Broadway.

“King” begins previews April 20 ahead of a May 2 opening.

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