- The Lion King
- Music & Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice . Additional Music & Lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer
- Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
- Directed by Julie Taymor
- A Disney production presented by The Kennedy Center
- Reviewed by Ted Ying
When Disneyland first opened, guests had to purchase tickets for the rides and attractions. Tickets ranged from “A” to “E” with the “E” tickets reserved for the best, most thrilling and amazing rides and attractions. Well, in true Disney fashion, the current production of The Lion King is definitely an “E” ticket.
The musical is based on the very popular 1994 animated movie of the same name. There have been a number of alterations including 9 new songs which fill out the production admirably and several additional scenes to round out the story-line.
This is one of the strongest touring companies that I have ever seen. Timothy Carter was the quintessential evil brother, Scar. His characterization and singing oozed malevolence. Dionne Randolph was the regal father, Mufasa, and his voice filled the Opera House with a rich basso. Phindile Mkhize was both comically and vocally appealing as the mandrill Shaman, Rafiki. She dazzled the audience as she bookended the show with her stunning rendition of the well-known “The Circle of Life.” Tony Freeman as Zazu, Mark Shunock as Timon and Ben Lipitz as Pumbaa kept the audience in stitches for their scenes. And the three hyenas, Jayne Trinette, Randy Donaldson, and Andrew Frace stole their scenes with their slapsticky portrayals. Nicholas L. Ashe was the enthusiastic young cub, Simba, whose energetic antics were heart-warming. He was matched with Sadé LouAnn Murray as the young cub, Nala, whose playfulness complemented Simba’s. André Jackson was the young adult version of Simba who became the hero that everyone wanted to root for. And Dan’yelle Williamson, the young adult Nala, was truly a prize worth winning for Simba, beautiful, graceful and vocally amazing.
The production is visually stunning. From the beautiful African costumes to the puppets representing some of the characters to the prosthetic costumes that allow the human ensemble to appear like cartoon anthropomorphic animals, the characters come alive and truly bring the movie to the stage. Anyone who loved the movie’s excellent animation will appreciate the detail that went into transforming those visions to the stage. The most amazing costume prosthetics were the lion heads worn by Mufasa and Scar that allowed them to stretch or lunge like a cat. For movie lovers, the sets will be immediately recognizable: the magnificent Pride Rock opens and closes the show; the two elephant skeleton staircases truly astound as they move like a choreographed dancer to make the chase scenes in the Elephant’s graveyard exciting; the patches of African grasses seem fairly basic until they are worn on the heads of the ensemble for an incredible dance that makes the grasslands come alive. Add in the skilled movements of a top-notch dance ensemble that bring the grace and beauty of the African animals to life and it amounts to a visual overload. The entire audience was amazed by the splendor.
The sound was also aesthetically beautiful. Two percussionists were set on the left and right at the foot of the stage on either side of the orchestra pit. The African drums that ringed their performance space added to the atmosphere as did their accompaniments. The orchestra was in the zone from the first note and the music truly complemented the visual aspects of the show. The new music fit into the show as if they were part of the original and appropriately augmented the show to add depth to the scenes. And the voices of the ensemble were well matched to the original voice actors so that there was no difficulty recognizing the characters for those fans of the movie.
The artistic staff truly gave the cast a wonderful frame in which to work. Julie Taymor was the original director who adapted the production to stage. The costumes, masks and puppets by Taymor and Michael Curry and the hair & makeup by Michael Ward help bring the animated characters to life. The choreography by Garth Fagan amazes like the golden age of Broadway.
Despite the long running time and the evening showings, this is family entertainment at its best. The show is captivating to both adults and children including some wonderful comedy and repartee for the adults. There is ample reason why this is one of the hottest tickets of the season and it is definitely an “E” ticket.
- Running Time: 2:40, including one 15-minutes intermission.
- When: June 26 – August 24, 2008.
- Where: The Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC.
- Tickets: $25 – $150. The entire run is Sold Out. However, a limited number of tickets may become available on the day of each performance. Even if the web-site calendar displays SOLD OUT, contact the Box Office for last-minute availability on the day of performance.
- More Information: 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324 or on the website.