Disney’s success continued in adapting their hit animated film into a theatrical phenomenon. I finally got to go see the musical version of The Lion King last week, and the first few words that come to my mind are: “amazing,” “stunning,” and “unbelievable! ” My expectations were met, as my eyes grew wider with the bright, colorful lights, breath taking costumes, and the superb music of the first scene. I was a little unsure at first, wondering how in the world Disney was going to manage putting a film starring non-human characters, and animated ones at that, onto a three-dimensional stage.
Disney never ceases to amaze me. The Lion King was one of the many impressive displays of an elaborate musical production that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The Lion King is the tale of Simba, the son of the Lion King Mufasa (Rufus Bonds, Jr. ). The birth of the new heir displaces the king’s brother Scar (John Vickery), leading the envious Scar to plot the death of Mufasa and Simba. When Mufasa is killed while trying to save Simba, Scar convinces Simba he must go into exile.
There, Simba is befriended by a meerkat, Timon (Danny Rutigliano) and a warthog, Pumbaa (Bob Bouchard), and grows to adulthood (adult voice of Matthew Broderick) blissfully free of responsibilities. However, when childhood friend Nala (Moe Daniels) coincidently finds Simba and informs him that Scar is destroying the pride land, Simba must decide whether to keep his distance or to confront his demons… and Scar. Simba, seeking to find answers, finds his father’s image in the sky and returns to the Pride lands to recapture his thrown as king.
A bloody battle with the lionesses and the hyenas left Simba and Scar head to head in a battle for the truth. Scar reveals that he in fact killed Mufasa and blames the hyenas for everything. In turn, the hyenas change their loyalty towards Scar and kill him. Simba regains Pride Rock and circle of life begins once more. The Lion King was a festive and fantastic production. The success relied heavily on its use of masks and costumes to make the production a complete musical.
For starters, director Julie Taymor turned the cartoon movie’s story into a musical that takes not only the movie, but also the concept of theatrical spectacle to a new level. The cartoon characters have been reinvented with wildly imaginative masks and puppets, (co-designed by Michael Curry) with actors and mask/puppets clearly visible to the audience. The costumes, an extension of the masks, are equally canny. The hard-to-top “Circle of Love” opening number is a parade that fills the entire theater.
It includes giraffes on stilts, leaping antelopes a lumbering giant, and a baby elephant with Afrikan batik ears, and swooping birds. The pop sound of Elton John and Tim Rice is not only present but includes three added numbers. The most important musical addition, however, stems from the exciting African rhythms by Lebo M. His “One by One” tribal chant at the beginning of Act 2 requires no understanding of the language for the audience to respond to its celebratory emotions. The singer Fuschia, as Rafiki the baboon shaman, also adds power to the show’s African elements.
Like the masks and the puppets and most everything else about the show, the ingeniousness of the scenic effects are almost beyond description. As you’ve got to hear the music and see the effect of the half human, half animal actors, you’ve got to see the orange paper sun, the savannah grasses rising from the stage and on top of human heads, a blue cloth that becomes a fish-filled stream. To implement Taymor’s creative input, there’s also set designer Richard Hudson’s swirling pop-up Pride Rock to serve as the center of this magical kingdom.
I went to The Lion King with an optimistic attitude and I came out with a feeling of satisfaction of a good night. This splashy, feel-good production fulfilled its job and is made for all general audiences to enjoy. I would recommend this as a good date or a place for my parents to go to on the weekends. The production was a masterpiece with a talented cast, unique designs and style with clever costumes and extraordinary scenery, with up roaring and delighted music. I highly recommend this theater production with two enthusiastic thumbs up!