Today we continue the 2012 Tony Awards Clip Countdown with a match-up of epic proportions that seemed to signify more than merely friendly competition for theatre's top honors being awarded that night in 1998 - THE LION KING versus RAGTIME.
While the two musicals could not be more dissimilar in style, story or sound, the supposed target audience was generally the same for each show - families; more often than not the only audience catered to with any regularity on Broadway these days (or then, in the late-90s, even) - and, perhaps because of that and also because of the prestigious presenters putting the respective shows on, THE LION KING and RAGTIME went head-to-head in more ways than one in 1998. While the box office was generally strong for each from the get-go, THE LION KING seemed poised to be the reigning champ in that department - and, as history would prove, it definitely was; it recently became the most lucrative production on Broadway, where it is still running nearly fifteen years later. RAGTIME was always the underdog, but the lavish production and unprecedented development process for the show headed by visionary, if shady producer Garth Drabinsky gave it a windfall afforded to few new musicals. The Tony Awards committee nominated both Disney's THE LION KING and Drabinsky's RAGTIME for many awards and Broadway babies at the time were evenly split over which show they preferred - the artistic merits of each original production were astounding, after all, while one undeniably tended to have a more potent social message than the other; plus, both were a wholly new experience for Broadway audiences in their own special ways. There was and still is much to enjoy about both THE LION KING and RAGTIME, and, while RAGTIME deservedly won Best Score over the already-Academy-Award-winning Elton John/Tim Rice songs (as well as the new LION KING compositions contributed to the stage show), the Best Musical winner was THE LION KING. Nonetheless, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie all created iconic Broadway performances with their original, Tony-nominated turns in the show, with McDonald going on to win her third trophy for her unforgettable Sarah Brown Eyes (and she is nominated again this year for her turn in THE GERSHWINS' PORGY & BESS) and RAGTIME is a staple of schools and community theatre; so much so that in 2010 the Kennedy Center revival transferred to Broadway nearly simultaneously with the show's anniversary. Yes, it's always RAGTIME for some of us and the score holds a special place in the hearts of many theatre enthusiasts, yet THE LION KING has introduced millions of new theatergoers to the joys of live performance and Taymor's production is jaw-dropping in its inventiveness and brilliance of design and spectacle. So, whether your tastes fall more in line with New Music or Disney Tunes, both shows are well-worth reevaluation and regular examination because they both have so very much to offer, then and now.
First up, here is the cast of THE LION KING recreating the incomparable opening number from the African animal-themed puppet-infused musical - performing the Oscar-winning "Circle Of Life".
See the Broadway cast from ten years later recreate the opening number on the 2008 telecast, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg (who also played a role in the animated film), in honor of the show's tenth anniversary on Broadway.
Following that, now witness the original cast of RAGTIME performing their thrilling and timeless titular opening number on the 1998 Tony Awards.
Now, see revival Mother, Christiane Noll, perform the spine-tingling Act Two ballad "Back To Before" at the 2010 Tony Awards ceremony, where the Kennedy Center transfer of RAGTIME was nominated for Best Revival.
So, which show is your favorite - THE LION KING or RAGTIME? Is it really fair to even compare? The original productions of THE LION KING and RAGTIME both offered so much in the way of visual splendor, theatrical artistry, razzle dazzle spectacle, compelling characterizations and memorable musical moments that we can still look back fondly upon each, therefore making 1998 yet another Tony Awards season with an embarrassment of riches - not unlike the major musicals of 1984 and 1988 recently highlighted right here in this clip countdown.