The key to this complex puzzle was the design of some amazingly vivid masks, some of which cover the actors’ faces, while others rest atop their heads.
"Director Julie Taymor had an incredible vision that took the movie and refashioned it in a way that was anything but cartoonish,” Klaisner said.
"We have to remind ourselves sometimes that every one of these characters is an animal. When this show starts, you’ll see some things you’ve never seen before: giraffes, cheetahs, gazelles, flying birds. You know you’re in for something different and special.”
The stage production uses five songs from the film, including the memorable "Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the humorous "Hakuna Matata” and the stirring "Circle of Life.”
Elton John and Tim Rice composed additional music for the stage version, which was further augmented with African-inspired melodies created by Lebo M., Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and Hans Zimmer.
"I think that while ‘The Lion King’ movie had music in it, it wasn’t necessarily a musical,” Klaisner said.
"So when we encounter songs like ‘Shadowland’ and ‘Endless Night,’ they contain real musical theater elements that move things along and help tell the story.
"Many people who come to see ‘The Lion King’ know the story because of the film. But when they get here and discover it’s not the movie, that it has its own spin with a greatly enhanced African influence, they realize it’s a completely fresh experience.
"I’m approaching something like 2,300 performances with ‘The Lion King,’ and I’ve discovered that it never gets old. We have a lot of first-time theatergoers, many of whom are young impressionable children.
"I’m convinced that for some of them, this production will change their lives.”