1,500 NYC students see The Lion King on Broadway as part of TDF’s Introduction to Theatre.

NEW YORK CITY — About 1,500 students and their teachers from New York City public schools watched “The Lion King” on Broadway for free on Wednesday, part of a long-running program that had to be suspended for two years because of the COVID pandemic.

But now that Broadway is back in business, so is Disney and the Theater Development Fund’s Introduction to Theater program.

Their enthusiasm was evident, energy levels high, and the buzzing outside the Minsikoff Theater on 45th Street as the city’s youth left home after nearly three hours of free entertainment.

It’s enough to reaffirm your faith in the power of live theatre: experience Disney’s The Lion King in all its wonders through the eyes of teenagers.

“I was just totally shocked,” said one. “I didn’t expect Broadway to be this great.”

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The Theater Development Fund, or TDS, is the nonprofit organization best known for its Times Square TKTS booth that offers discounted tickets, but the group also finds other ways to make Broadway shows accessible to as many as possible.

“The thing I’ve missed most during the pandemic and what I’m most looking forward to is being back in the theater with 1,500 students as they go to their first-ever Broadway show,” said TDF executive director Victoria Bailey.

The long-running show the students have seen is an ideal way to discover the magic of Broadway, says one of the teachers they brought with them.

“These students were at Disney,” she said. “You’ve seen The Lion King. They love The Lion King. So what better way to introduce them to theater than to take them to a show they already love and see actors bring them to life on stage in real time?

Disney Theatrical Division President Tom Schumacher has long worked to attract a more diverse audience.

“We literally plant dreams,” he said. “Dreams in her head of fantasy, but also dreams of possibility.”

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And by offering The Lion King for free, everyone involved is getting the next generation of theatergoers excited about the Great White Way.

“It blew me out of the water,” said one. “It was really cool to see it all so close up, and it’s live, so it’s not like they can just repeat it if they screw up.”

The Lion King is by Disney and owned by the same parent company as this ABC network.

On Sunday, the theater will welcome families to a special “autism-friendly” performance of the musical, in another attempt by TDF to attract a more diverse audience and send the message that Broadway is back and strong.

Copyright © 2022 All rights reserved. 1,500 NYC students see The Lion King on Broadway as part of TDF’s Introduction to Theatre.

Dais Johnston

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