The Lion King producer Lebohang 'Lebo M' Morake with his team and TV personality Anele Mdoda, at The Venue, Melrose Arch. Morake will lead his team on a two-year world tour of the award-winning theatre production to celebrate its 20th anniversary.Picture: Itumeleng English/ African News Agency /ANA

Earlier this week, producer, composer and arranger of The Lion King, Lebo M, launched the two-year tour of the first 100% South African Lion King cast. 

Lebogang Morake, or Lebo M as he is known, was an integral part of the music of the film, having been enlisted to compose some of the music for the movie by Hans Zimmer, the score composer for the 1998 animated film.

The Lion King cast. Picture: Itumeleng English/ANA

The production has been seen by over 85 million people worldwide and is one of the longest running shows in the theatre world with 15 Lion King productions around the world. The Lion King has to date employed and placed over 300 South Africans around the world.

At an intimate launch held at The Venue in Melrose Arch, a place that also has personal significance for Morake, having co-owned the venue in its past life, the cast for the 20th anniversary production of the Lion King, was introduced.

The event, which was hosted by Anele Mdoda, also featured some of the South African legends of The Lion King such as Puleng March, Nhlanhla Ngema and Sello Maake ka Ncube, discussing their experiences and imparting their knowledge to the cast that will be touring Asia from later this month.

Sharing moving experiences and stories of personal growth at the launch, Lebo M pointed out that it was important that the new additions to the global Lion King family know that this show is about the business of theatre, with Lebo M saying at one point: “You will get fired if needs be. 

"This opportunity can be a great stepping stone in your journey as a performer, but we’ve also had stories of people who missed the chance to make the most of this”.

The production knows they go abroad as ambassadors of South Africa. And they are serious about maintaining the image of South Africa and its performers as being professional and a dream to watch on stage.

The Lion King cast. Picture: Itumeleng English/ANA

The Giraffe International Tour, as it’s known, will begin in Manila and will tour Singapore, Daegu, Busan, Seoul and Taipei for an epic two-year run. In 2020, it will be the turn of South African audiences, in Johannesburg and Cape Town, to experience the production.

Speaking to IOL, Lebo M expressed his sense of pride at what The Lion King has managed to achieve.

“I feel rejuvenated, proud and excited. After we do an extended run here in 2020, we’d also like to start working on the next movie and take the theatre production to African countries, that’s the dream,” he said.

Morake was candid that the journey has not always been rosy, and that behind the scenes an extensive amount of negotiation has taken place to ensure that we have the first completely South African cast.

He agreed however that the support they’d received throughout from Disney was invaluable in the process.

The production will be directed by Julie Taymor and produced by the Michael Cassel Group in partnership with Lebo M and Disney Theatrical Productions. It will premiere in March 2018 in Manila. The 41 cast and crew members depart from Johannesburg on Sunday.