The Lion King: Bringing the Music to Life

Buyi-Zama as Rafiki

Buyi-Zama as Rafiki in The Lion King. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The Lion King’s musical score reflects the influence of both western popular music and African rhythms. Merging the two musical worlds of Broadway and South Africa, the composers take us from the playful upbeat melodies of “Hakuna Matata” to the somber and mournful “Shadowlands” to the tribal celebration of “One by One.”

The Lion King film features five songs by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice: “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Prepared,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Before The Lion King, both John and Rice had enjoyed rewarding solo careers: Rice in partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber on such shows as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, John with such pop music hits as “Bennie and the Jets” and “Philadelphia Freedom.” Their reputations as celebrated icons in the music industry were once again rewarded when the duo won the Grammy® in 1998 for Best Show Album for The Lion King.


In films, music can be pivotal or simply complement the action, but in musical theatre, songs are used to give insights into the characters and move the story forward. When work began on bringing The Lion King to the stage, the creative team felt that a full musical would need additional songs and more music to tell Simba’s story.


After the film debuted, Disney released Rhythm of the Pridelands, a concept album by Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and South African musician Lebo M, which combined the film’s themes with African rhythms and music. Many of the songs and choruses from this evocative album were adapted into new songs for the stage version of The Lion King. Along with their original songs from the film, Rice and John wrote three new songs for the stage play that contributed to the storytelling: “The Morning Report,” “Chow Down,” and “The Madness of King Scar.”

For Lebo M, The Lion King’s story had a personal resonance. During the 1990s, South Africa destroyed its inhumane apartheid practice of racial segregation and witnessed a new dawning of equality. He said, “most of the music I wrote, and the lyrics and arrangements, are very much inspired by my life story and my background as a South African artist” (from The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway).

The Lion King’s score is a unique blending of music from many different sources. As Mark Mancina says, “There are no boundaries… The music of The Lion King is diverse. It is African and it is pop and it is incredibly emotional” (from The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway). Yet it all works together to tell the story and give us insights into the characters’ throughs and emotions.


The Lion King

Dec 2, 2021 – Jan 2, 2022 • Buell Theatre

Tickets: OR 303.893.4100

This article was compiled by material provided by Disney’s The Lion King including The Lion King DVD and The Lion King education video series.