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Disney's Animal Kingdom stays up late with new Harambe Nights

Disney World is introducing a dinner-and-show combo in a unique setting: After dark at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park.

The event, dubbed Harambe Nights, debuts June 7 and runs Saturday evenings through Aug. 9. There will be familiar Disney World vibes — think "Festival of the Lion King" meets Party for the Senses meets Candlelight Processional — but this is new, its own creation.

The back story centers on Harambe Village, the little town of the theme park's Africa section, which is marking the 20th anniversary of the Disney blockbuster "The Lion King." The nighttime celebration includes themed dining and live performances in a show titled "The Lion King — Concert in the Wild."

"Some of the iconic scenes from the films are integrated in a way that they seem to come alive," said show director Marsha Jackson-Randolph. The cast of about 50 performers includes an orchestra, choir, dancers, celebrity narrator and a pivotal character, the village shaman known as the "sangoma."

"It is with his sort of mystical power that we have this experience of the scenes coming to life," Jackson-Randolph said.

Tickets to Harambe Nights sell for $119 ($79 for age 3-9). An admission ticket to Animal Kingdom is not required; the park will already be closed for the evening.

The 55-minute "Concert in the Wild" show is separate from the Animal Kingdom's popular "Festival of the Lion King" production, which returns from hiatus in June. Both will be seen in the park's new Harambe Theater. The sets will be transformed after the day shows are complete, Jackson-Randolph said.

At night, "guests come in to what feels like an African savanna. They're looking at Pride Rock and in this tradition of the story circle, they become a part of the retelling of Simba's story," she said.

A celebrity narrator will tell the story of Simba, the cub who would be king, each Saturday, beginning with actress Viola Davis on June 7.

"The emotional journey that the film takes us — and the world that film takes us into — is the world that we literally re-create in the theater," Jackson-Randolph said. "We re-create that world through special effects."

Food will be a major component of the event from beginning to end, even during the "Concert in the Wild," said Robert Gilbert, executive chef of catering operations for Walt Disney World. People entering the theater will receive a new concoction: "lion chow" consisting of candy pecans, sea salt-toasted chips, candied ginger, golden raisins and dried cherries, served in a bamboo sleeve.

"As the guests are enjoying the show, they won't have the rustling of paper … that you would otherwise get with a bag of chips or something like that," Gilbert said.

For the outdoor dinner portion that follows the show, expect items such as watermelon goat cheese salad, butter chicken with basmati rice, golden pineapple with toasted coconut and naan bread, which will be grilled on stage. The food will be spread over multiple stations.

About three-quarters of the menu items have been served or are being served at Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants, Gilbert says.

"We wanted to stay in character as much as possible in staying true to the event itself. But at the same time, we wanted our guests to take a step out and try something new," Gilbert said.

"No one's going to go home hungry," he said.

As usual, Disney attempts total immersion, from the special effects of the show down to the dessert.

"There are a lot of different elements to come together," Jackson-Randolph said. "Think of this as tapestry that's coming together. As you look at it, the more you look, the more you see." or 407-420-5477

Harambe Nights

What: After-hours dinner and show tied to the 20th anniversary of "The Lion King"

Where: Disney's Animal Kingdom, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando

When: Saturdays between June 7 and Aug. 9. Reception starts at 7 p.m. Show time is 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $119 ($79 for ages 3-9).

Phone: 407-939-1319


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