This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Lion King is about to claim a big crown. The Disney musical that kicked off Broadway's obsession with movies is on pace to become this month the first show to reach $1 billion in cumulative gross. It had collected more than $997 million from its New York shows as of Oct. 6, almost exactly 16 years after its first preview performance on Oct. 15, 1997.
Lion King's success can't solely be attributed to its longevity -- it will soon overtake Les Miserables as just the fifth-longest-running show of all time -- nor to inflated ticket prices. Even with the adoption of premium seating a decade ago, Lion King pricing remains middle-of-the-pack, averaging $130 per seat with a peak price of $199, compared with $171 and $477 for The Book of Mormon.
Instead the family-friendly musical has been rewarded by consistency, playing to packed or standing-room-only houses and dipping below 80 percent capacity fewer than a dozen times in more than 6,600 shows (typical Broadway musical production costs are $600,000 to $700,000 a week). "This humbling milestone is a testament to the vision and artistry of [director] Julie Taymor," says producer and Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher. Taymor's Tony-winning direction and the property's worldwide recognition -- the show has grossed $5 billion across 21 global productions -- have made it very good to be King.