Broadway staging of 'Lion King' duets with African charity

No charity will tell you that it’s easy to get people interested in the developing world, but Chris Helfrich may have found a likely solution for Africa-centric initiative Nothing But Nets: Ask at the end of “The Lion King.”

“For us, ‘The Lion King’ made so much sense,” said Helfrich, who runs the initiative for the U.N. Foundation. In cooperation with the Nederlander organization (which owns “Lion King” theater the Minskoff), Disney Theatricals, and Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, the cast of the show will petition the aud to contribute to the charity. Helfrich said $10 increments are best — it costs 10 bucks to send an African child a net to hang over his bed that will protect him from the mosquitoes that spread malaria.

“It’s all about engaging audiences around African themes and dealing with big issues, but in fun and easy-to-grasp ways,” said Helfrich of the Julie Taymor/Elton John musical. “And that’s really what our campaign is about, too. It’s about connecting Americans with people in Africa by sending nets and saving lives.”

Tom Viola, of Broadway Cares, said his charity was “eager to assist” when it heard Disney and the Nederlanders were aiming to increase the $40 million that Nothing But Nets has raised so far.

“This is just the cast of ‘The Lion King,’ specifically, asking people to join them in something that’s important to them,” Viola said.

Fund-raising has been limited to the show’s Broadway incarnation and will come during the spring appeal, beginning April 25 — also World Malaria Day. The pitches take perhaps a minute to make, but in that minute, a child dies of malaria somewhere on the Horn of Africa.

“When this campaign started, a child was dying every 30 seconds, and now it’s every 45 seconds,” Helfrich said. “We’re making progress, but there’s still way too many deaths.”

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