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Harambe Nights Lion King celebration roars for first-time ever at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, June 7

Posted on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm


By Peter Covino

A&E Editor

The good news for Disney fans is that an all-new dinner and stage spectacle tribute for  the 20th anniversary of the Lion King, comes to Animal Kingdom for the first time Saturday night (June 7).

The bad news: opening night is already sold out.

Harambe Nights is a new foray for Walt Disney World. It is music and dinner on a large scale, and brings nighttime entertainment to Animal Kingdom for the first time.

Media were invited to a sneak preview, you might even call it an “undressed rehearsal” earlier this week for a look at some of the musical numbers.

The mini-performance was actually set in a rehearsal hall and not in its actual setting —  a new stage theater at Animal Kingdom. But with just a little imagination, it was pretty easy to see that this is theater at an unprecedented level, even for Disney World.

This is the first special event for Animal Kingdom and the first night-time event ever for the theme park, said show director Marsha Jackson Randolph.

“We have put our heart and soul into this theatrical experience,” she said.

While The Lion King has become very familiar to fans from the box office hit and stage productions, the Harambe Nights version will be different.

“It began as an incredible film,” Randolph said, “changing so many lives.”

But The Lion King has never been told like this before, she said.

The show is being told from the point of view of Harambe Village via a choir, dance ensemble, narrators  and orchestra.

Even those famous characters from The Lion King, will be portrayed by village residents.

The narrators, there are two for each show, includes a celebrity narrator. The opening night narrator is actress Viola Davis, but each Saturday night a different celebrity narrator will be part of the Lion king story including David Alan Grier, Alfre Woodard, Avery Brooks and others.

The cast, was assembled via an open casting call for dancers and singers, and they come from all over, she said.

“This really challenges a company,” Randolph said, “to make it new. To make it fresh. And we have met that challenge.”

The show features a combined total of dancers, singers, orchestra and narrators of about 50 people.

The 55-minute stage show begins with a pre-reception of African-inspired appetizers, paired with African wines and beer.  All guests receive a nicely packaged treat to eat during the show, “Lion Chow,” a snack  featuring a salty-sweet combination of dried fruits, ginger, pecans, chips and more.

After the show, it is time for a dinner, a street festival in Harambe at Animal Kingdom, with dancing, music and food.

And it is a feast. Media sampled the  buffet-style menu as well as the mini-version of the show.

Disney Chef Robert Gilbert said much of want diners will find will be familiar to those who frequent Boma  and Jiko — The Cooking Place, the two restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The chef said it took four tastings before the menu really took hold. And there might be more tweaking as the event continues to see what guests really like.

The street-side tables will cover four different areas — fresh cooked breads, salads and more; surf and turf; slow-cook action stations and sweets.

The four areas cover a lot of taste-sensations including butter chicken thighs, seared lamb chops with tamarind pomegranate sauce; fork-tender peri barbecued pork; line-and caught corvina filet with groan curry sauce.

There is a large variety of vegetable dishes as well  featuring items such as  roasted pepper hummus, vegetarian eggplant tikka masala curry over goat cheese; watermelon, cucumber and fennel salad and mango, radish, lime and mustard seed salad.

Desserts include rice pudding with dried fruit compote and pistachio gremolata; chai cream with zebra stripes apple slices with caramel sauce; ripe melon with minted yogurt dip and ice cream bars.

Harambe Nights is a bit pricey: $119 plus tax for adults ($79 for ages 3-9).  But with the festival event only offered one night a week and it is scheduled to end Aug. 9, demand will most likely be high.

Parking at Animal Kingdom is included in the ticket price.

The evening runs from 7 to 10:30 p.m. To reserve tickets go to or call 407-939-1319.