Disney’s The Lion King | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

It was a wonderful evening filled with extraordinary talent, marvelous music and motivational messaging. (Hakuna Matata, PLAYBACK:stl readers!)

Have you ever seen one of the viral videos in which someone is given a puppy, and in their overwhelming excitement, they just start bawling and babbling incoherently? Well, that was basically me when the lights went out, and Rafiki (Mukelisiwe Goba) came onstage and belted out the famous opening lyrics “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba” before the animal procession of Disney’s The Lion King began. (Of course, I wasn’t babbling, but the lump in my throat and the tears were there.)

When people list the Broadway musicals everyone needs to see at least once in their lifetime, The Lion King is usually pretty high up there, and having seen it twice now myself, I agree that it’s more than deserving of that high recommendation. However, I will say that personally, the magic of seeing it that first time wasn’t as strongly felt during my second viewing—an opinion expressed by my husband as well. Regardless of that observation, it was still a wonderful evening filled with extraordinary talent, marvelous music, and famed motivational messaging (Hakuna Matata, PLAYBACK:stl readers)!

I’m sure I don’t need to explain the storyline of The Lion King in-depth. Even if you haven’t seen the 1994 Disney animated movie upon which it’s based, you’re probably at least familiar with the premise. If not, here it goes: The Lion King is essentially the coming of age story of a lion named Simba (cub: Devin Graves and Jordan Williams; grown: Dashaun Young), who is destined to become king once his father, Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey), passes. Simba’s mere existence enrages his uncle Scar (Mark Campbell), who had long envied his brother Mufasa’s prestige. So being the wicked Disney villain he is, Scar stages a coup to take his brother’s life and effectively convinces Simba, who is just a cub at the time, that he’s to blame. Unable to face his family, Simba leaves with no intention of ever returning. Luckily, he quickly makes friends with Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), a meerkat and warthog respectively, who also consider themselves outcasts…and that’s only Act I!

Everyone who is a main player in this show has a memorable stage presence, especially Mufasa and Scar, who powerfully embody  good vs. evil. Zazu (Tony Freeman), Timone, Pumbaa, and Scar’s hyena squad serve as great comic relief.

Overall, the performances were superb, but really, the renown of this show comes down to its one-of-a-kind costuming and set design—written descriptions of which could never do either component justice. Director Julie Taymor and her creative team met the challenge of portraying animals onstage head on and the result is simply stupendous. The majority of the cast wear animal masks atop their heads (rather than over their faces) or they control puppets, and it’s up to audience members to use their imaginations to see the characters as they’re intended. (I can say from experience that it’s much easier to do this sitting in the back of the theatre than it is up front). As Taymor notes, “when the human spirit visibly animates an object, we experience a special, almost life-giving connection. We become engaged by both the method of storytelling as well as the story itself.”

Who can say when The Lion King will come back to town, so don’t miss your chance to attend during this tour—especially if you’ve never seen it before!| Megan Washausen

The Lion King runs through May 7. For ticket information, visit http://www.fabulousfox.com/events/detail/lion-king.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

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