In like a lion, out like a king

Richmond’s Landmark Theater is singing “Hakuna Matata” thanks to a Broadway production that brought in more than $5 million and lured thousands of theatergoers.

Disney’s “The Lion King” musical, which just wrapped up a month-long Richmond run, attracted more than 95,000 people to the Landmark, resulting in $5.6 million in sales, its highest grossing production ever.

Local businesses also did their best to lure in the “Lion King” crowds and saw a boost in business during what is otherwise a slower time of year.

Cindy Creasy, publicist for Broadway in Richmond, the company that brings popular productions to the city, said it only made sense to bring the show here.

“We knew ‘The Lion King’ was one of the hottest Broadway shows ever, so we knew there would be a favorable response,” she said. “The four-week run met expectations and then some.”

“The Lion King” ran for 32 performances at the Landmark from Feb. 15 through March 11. Creasy said the Laurel Street theater, which seats 3,565 people, was packed almost every night.

Tickets ranged from $25 to $127 and went on sale Nov. 5. Creasy couldn’t share numbers but said a substantial amount of the tickets were swiped up in the first month.

“The Landmark had people lining up at 3:30 in the morning, and [people] were wrapped around the building,” she said. “Hundreds of people showed up, some purchasing two, some eight.”

Creasy said the show drew people from Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Delaware.

“People who love the show will drive and stay the weekend to see it again,” she said.

To lure those out-of-towners, a few hotels in the area drew up special deals.

The Jefferson Hotel provided a package for $395 that included a room, two tickets to the show and breakfast.

Jennifer Crisp, public relations manager for the Jefferson, said the hotel sold 36 packages.

“We ran packages each weekend for each performance, and we were very pleased with the results,” she said.

Crisp didn’t have exact numbers but said the hotel’s restaurants, Lemaire and TJ’s, also saw some traffic from the pre- and post-theatre crowd.

Local restaurants also pounced on the Lion King mania.

Grayson Collins, co-owner of Stawberry Street Cafe, said the restaurant offered a dinner package for two for $39 and saw about 1,200 people during the four week-run.

“It brought our sales 15 percent above last year’s around the same time,” Collins said. “It came at a good time for restaurants and all types of busineses. It brought people into the city.”

Creasy said the 74-minute show has mass appeal because it’s fit for any age.

“I think the beauty of this show is [that] it’s families coming with their children that watched the videos when it first came out 15 years ago,” she said. “And couples and Broadway lovers up into their 40s, 50s and 60s.”

“The Lion King” isn’t the only recent artistic attraction to draw the masses to Richmond. The Pablo Picasso exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts last spring drew almost 230,000 people and grossed about $2.6 million.

Creasy would not share how much was spent on the marketing “The Lion King” but said a mix of advertisements were blasted across radio, television, email, billboards, online and print.

The financial performance of “The Lion King” at the Landmark broke the record previously held by the first run of the Wizard of Oz-themed musical “Wicked,” which ran 24 performances at the Landmark in March 2010. That show sold more than 75,000 tickets and brought in $4 million.

“The Lion King” hit Broadway in 1997 and has since grossed more than $4.7 billion worldwide. It’s the seventh-longest-running musical in Broadway history.

Nothing is set in stone, but Creasy it’s likely the Lion King will return to the theater for a second run.

Landmark’s next show will be the Blue Man Group, which will premiere in April.

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patti Knight

Thank you so much for sharing all of the facts and figures surrounding the economical impact these shows can have on our city. The Landmark is a gem that should be polished and protected like anything else valuable. We’re fortunate to have such a beautiful, historic venue in the heart of the city . . . and I look forward to attending future shows there in the years to come. Local surrounding businesses that participated to support patronage created a win-win for revenue in the city!