Story: Mufasa, head lion of his pride, rules the jungle as “king of the beasts.” He presides over a flourishing kingdom, loved by his wife Sarabi but despised by his brother Scar. The latter resents that Mufasa’s young son, Simba, is heir to the throne. Scar plots various ways to murder Mufasa, finally succeeding when he lures Simba into a stampede of wildebeests. Mufasa rescues Simba but dies as a result, and Scar quickly ascends the throne with a menacing group of hyenas as his henchmen.
Simba is convinced by Scar that the lad caused his father’s death and, at Scar’s urging, flees into the countryside. There he is rescued and raised by an affable warthog named Pumbaa and his wise-cracking pal, Timon the meerkat. When Pumbaa years later is stalked by a lioness in desperate need of food, she turns out to be Simba’s childhood sweetheart Nala. She convinces Simba to return home and reclaim the throne from his treacherous uncle.
Highlights: Based on the hit Disney film of the same name, The Lion King is a magnificent spectacle that is the rarest of beasts, a show that appeals to both children and adults. The eye-popping, jaw-dropping puppetry designed by director Julie Taymor and Michael Curry has dazzled audiences for more than 5,350 performances on Broadway since The Lion King opened in 1997 following a tryout in Minneapolis, and spawned tours nationwide as well as several foreign countries. Its six Tony Awards were well earned for direction, sets, costumes, lighting and choreography as well as Best Musical.
Other Info: The current production at The Fox marks the third visit of The Lion King here, following stops in 2003 and 2007. The show retains all of its magic and wonder, even if the book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi can be formulaic and predictable. After all, the beauty of The Lion King really lies in the breathtaking artistry of the masks and puppets, creations that took a staggering total of more than 17,000 hours to assemble for the original Broadway production.
Performers who maneuver the puppets speak in unison with their animal counterparts, achieving a stereo effect of sorts in the presentation. Their flair is enhanced by the resplendent costumes designed by Taymor, complemented by a rainbow of hues incorporated into Michael Ward’s hair and makeup design. Richard Hudson’s simple set focuses on the key Prime Rock locale, aided by screens that depict various jungle aspects such as a waterfall, a river and even the African veldt. All of it is sumptuously illuminated by Donald Holder’s lighting design that features a shimmering sun as well as a night sky filled with sparkling stars. Steve Canyon Kennedy adds a supportive sound design to proceedings.
Garth Fagan’s choreography is effervescent and vibrant throughout, inspired by the infectious mingling of African rhythms and South African music with American pop styles. The show’s enchanting music is an intricate collaboration fusing the primary compositions of Elton John with the lyrics of Tim Rice and enhanced by the contributions of Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer. It blends several songs from the 1994 movie with a number of tunes written specifically for the musical.
Stellar singing accentuates the production as well, led by the glorious pipes of Buyi Zama as the wise baboon Rafiki, who leads the introductory and transfixing Circle of Life number. Young Simba, alternately portrayed by Zavion Hill and Adante Power, and Young Nala, who is played in rotation by Khail Bryant, Kailah McFadden and Sade Phillip-Demorcy, have a grand time with the rambunctious I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, while Rashada Dawan, Keith Bennett and Robbie Swift get into their antics as the trio of lazy hyenas on Chow Down.
Brent Harris is appropriately menacing and conniving as the ambitious Scar, and Dionne Randolph is properly regal as the kind-hearted Mufasa, with Tryfena Wade as his loving wife Sarabi. Jelani Remy and Syndee Winters demonstrate their athleticism as well as their musical chops as the adult Simba and Nala. Mark David Kaplan is clever and amusing as Mufasa’s dutiful attendant, the brightly colored Zazu the bird. Huge audience favorites, along with Zama, are Nick Cordileone as the glib Timon and Ben Lipitz as the amiable Pumbaa.
The Lion King takes a serviceable story and elevates it to superior art with the fastidious, meticulous direction and dedication of Taymor and her immensely talented colleagues, a visual and auditory feast for the senses.
Musical: The Lion King
Group: Touring Company
Venue: The Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through September 2
Tickets: From $28; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of The Lion King