NEW YORK - The top grossing Broadway musical of all time - The Lion King - celebrated its 20th anniversary in a big way on Sunday night (Nov 6).
British singer Elton John made a surprise appearance after a thunderous curtain call, performing for close to 1,700 invited guests - mainly former cast and crew of the production along with their families.
Accompanied by cast members, John played the piano as he sang the Circle Of Life, an original song from the animated film's soundtrack which is also part of the musical. He had collaborated with the musical's lyricist, Tim Rice, on three other songs for the on-stage production, which premiered on Broadway in 1997.
This was one of the many moments of Sunday night's special performance that got the audience in the Minskoff Theatre, in the heart of Times Square, on their feet.
Mr Victor Amerling, who was head of props for The Lion King for 10 years, was also on his feet to applaud the cast during the opening sequence, which introduces the imaginative use of puppetry in the show.
"It was a very nostalgic night, like a big reunion...When you do this for so long, it feels like family," said Mr Amerling, who is now head of the props department at Aladdin, another Broadway production.
Since it opened in the Orpheum Theatre in Minnesota in 1997, 395 actors have been part of The Lion King, performing to more than 90 million people and helping the production rake in more than US $7.9 billion ($10.8 billion).
The musical, adapted from the popular Disney animated film, is based on the journey of a young lion cub, Simba, who is next in line to become king of the savannah after his father, Mufasa.
His uncle, Scar, however has ambitions to become king and manages to kill Mufasa before sending Simba away into the wild.
Simba eventually regains his crown with the help of his new-found friends.
As part of the show's 20th anniversary, a free show will be held on Broadway on Nov 15, and tickets will be given out via a lottery system. President and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher said it was a chance to "thank New York City for 20 years of loving support".
The musical will make its way to Asia next year with stops in the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
"While The Lion King has been to Singapore before, this is a different company...that I think will be really thrilling," said director Julie Taymor, referring to the international cast that will be performing here.
This is the second time The Lion King will be performed in Singapore. In 2011, 300,000 people watched the show over eight months.
The Singapore show, which will be performed at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre again, starts on June 27 and will run till Aug 5.
Tickets go on sale from Nov 13.