'The Lion King': Making of the Highest-Grossing Musical

Inside the global Broadway phenomenon that earned six Tonys and a $5 billion title.
6:28 | 11/20/12

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Transcript for 'The Lion King': Making of the Highest-Grossing Musical
Dulcolax stool softener. Make yourself comfortable. ext1 italics Test Text1 plain Success. In a journey that spanned from broadway to brazil and back, abc's juju chang brings us this look inside the making of a phenomenon. ♪ Reporter: That haunting zulu . And the menagerie of puppets that follow, has enthralled audiences the world over. As "the lion king" celebrates 15 record-shattering years on the great white way, "nightline's" invited to pull back the curtain and discover the secrets behind the show's phenomenal success. ♪ Reporter: It's the highest-grossing musical of all-time, with profitmaking runs in more than 100 cities around the globe. "The lion king" brand has earned more than all six "star wars" films combined. It's hard to believe that at first, most people thought the musical would fail. I said, that's the worst idea I've ever heard. Reporter: Including the show's would-be producer, thomas schumacher. We're going to get yelled at for touching stuff. Reporter: Unlikely, since tom's now the head of disney's theatrical production. I feel like a lioness. He reminisces about arguing with his boss, who was hell-bent on making it all work. He said just get a great idea. And I got a great idea. Julie taymor. Reporter: At the time, julie taymor was a little-known theater virtuoso. She had directed operas. But never mainstream broadway. Everybody told us we were crazy to work with julie taymor. The broadway community assumed this would be a massive disaster. Reporter: But the disney team decided the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. They would reinvent this beloved cartoon for the stage. Julie used every trick in the book. From 17th century stage craft, to african costuming and asian puppetry. The result, a fusion of high-art and low-brow comedy. And this is what you call the double -- that's the double-event. You get the human and the animal. When you want the aggressive nature of the lion, that's when scar will put his head forward. And there's the ability to get very violent. This is the sexiest animal we have. I love the idea that the audience sees the strings. I want them to appreciate the talent of rformer who is it. Reporter: And to find those performers, julie still scours the globe in search of raw talent. Give him the cue right before scar. ♪ Hakuna matata ♪ Reporter: In sao paulo, we get a rare glimpse in a casting production. Brazil is the 60th country to stage a "lion king" production. After weeks of callbacks, they finally strike gold. ♪ tiago barbosa, a 27-year-old plucked from the slums of rio, brings down the house, with simba's most emotional number. ♪ good job. Can we? Hey. Simba. Reporter:15 years into her journey, there's still magic in a discovery like this. I'm not sure anybody's ever put it together like that. Not like that? No. Ever. In any place. Reporter: And julie taymor is no stranger to magical moments. In 1998, "lion king" earned six tony awards. Julie became the first woman ever to win best director. She went on to direct movies, including "frida." And then, another musical. "Spider-man: Turn off the dark." But it was riddled with stage accidents, money issues. Julie was pushed out of the production before opening night. She's not talked on camera about the experience until now. You can't blame me. You don't create a musical with one person or two. Reporter: Her famous partners, u2's bono and the edge, accused her of being too close to the project to see its major flaws. Would you agree with that assessment? I wouldn't. It's hard to create experimental, break ground, try to do something that's never been done, when people are going to second-guess it. The show that's there is the show that I created over eight years, minus some of the deaths. Reporter: And after significant retooling, it's a show that's become a huge hit on broadway. Julie says that's part to her early vision. Big risk, big reward. It's the lesson she learned from "lion king." And as the original creators take the curtain call after sunday's 15th anniversary performance, they know all of the pageantry and the stage craft would be meaningless, were it notor a simple story retold. It's our story. It's the story of humanity, told with lions, a meerkat and a flatulent wart hog. Reporter: Perhaps that's the secret to its success. For "nightline," I'm juju chang in new york.

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