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Review: The Lion King Transforms Audiences of Any Age

The Lion King may be the most recognizable Disney story of the last 20 years. The well-crafted cartoon enjoyed incredible success in the late ’90s, and it successfully avoids a lot of the traps that have kept Disney hits from becoming classics. Its transition to the stage in the late ’90s was even more impactful. Julie Taymor’s interpretation added even more depth to the story, both through the addition of several songs with authentic African influence to the well-known Elton John soundtrack. From a design perspective, Taymor’s The Lion King tore down boundaries and introduced Broadway to some of the most creative conceptualizations of animals, using puppetry to supplement the dancers costumes.

Disney’s The Lion King Gives Good Story Great Theatricality

HE SAID: The first time I saw this show was just over a decade ago in the summer of 2001, during the L.A. production, and the show is as magical now as it was back then. The innovation and pure artistry that went into its original creation is still, in a lot of ways, unmatched. The sets, the puppetry, and the costumes, all have a this power to make adults ooh and ahh and yet simultaneously leave young children speechless and even sit still for a lot of the show.

SHE SAID: I’ve also seen a tour of this show before, and I remember very much enjoying the production, but many more layers and details stood out to me this time. In particular, it really impressed me how many different theatrical representations of the characters there were, that all blended to tell the story well. Although primarily told through the live actors wearing gorgeous headpieces (that sometimes double as masks), there are also times in which the story is told using shadow puppets (which conveniently cover scene changes) or using small puppets. This offers just enough variety to keep the audience on their toes (and keep small children remarkably quiet, as HE mentions), but enough consistency that you don’t lose sight of what is happening, nor do you stop identifying with the characters.

Ensemble Members Stay Busy Making Magic

HE SAID: For me, and I can’t believe I feel this way, the specialty of this show is not about the characters as much as it is in immersing the audience in wonder.  Yes – the story is great. It ought to be – it’s Hamlet. And I shed a couple tears during the reprise of “He Lives In You.” I am a sucker for father/son moments. But what makes The Lion King more than that is the wonder that is involved and necessary for success and it’s not just spectacle for thrills sake. Most every child feels “Disney Magic” when they are at Disneyland or watching one of their favorite Disney films and what Julie Taymor and company were able to do so well in the original, and subsequently on tour, is bring all of that magic and throw it on stage. And what is even more amazing is how they pulled from every corner of the globe to tell that story. It’s a true multi-cultural event that pulls us all together into the magic and we all feel like kids again. When the elephant walks out or when you see Zazu or Timon (hilariously played by Mark David Kaplan and Nick Cordileone respectively) for the first time or when Mufasa appears in the sky – adults remember what magic is like.

SHE SAID: I totally agree that the whole experience is greater than the sum of the storytelling parts. Importantly, though, the magic that you talk about isn’t divorced from the meaning of what’s going on. A lot of the new theatrical tricks would not be as moving if they were tacked onto a half-baked story, and that’s the difference between a Broadway classic and a show that makes for splashy headlines, but turns out only to be a flash in the pan. But all of this emphasis on conceptualization and design shouldn’t discount how demanding the piece is for the performers. It’s one of those shows where the ensemble might be busier than the leading characters -always changing in or out of an intricate costume, dancing with equal skill as an antelope, a sheaf of grass or a hyena. The leading characters, are constantly juggling their physicality, their honest responses to each other, and the vocal demands of the music. I was especially impressed with Syndee Winters who played the adult Nala, with just the right amount of heart and tenacity. I was also impressed with Jelani Rema’s physical skills as Simba, as often times that role can be more about singing than dancing. I have to say I also consistently enjoyed Buyi Zama as Rafiki. She gave a performance that was entertaining to the kids in the audience, but very grounded in a real soul with honest goals.

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The Lion King a Great Holiday Choice

THEY SAID: We knew that we would enjoy this marvelous stage version of a the Disney classic. But we forgot how well this production sweeps the audience away in a truly unique and magical world. This presentation, timed well with the holiday season, will make a wonderful family outing. Even if you don’t have little ones to bring along, it’ll remind you of your childhood and of the importance of family. An ideal blend of theatricality, entertainment and story, your time in the Buell will be well-spent in a new, inspiring world.

For more information on The Lion King , see the wikipedia article. The Lion King plays through December 4 at the Garner Galleria in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Click the banner above for tickets and more information.


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