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The Lion King musical is based on the 1994 Walt Disney animated classic, The Lion King. The musical is adapted from the screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton and produced by Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher.
This musical debuted in 1997 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has now become the seventh longest running show on Broadway and is the highest grossing Broadway show of all time, having grossed $853.8 million. The show has toured in multiple cities across the U.S. as well as around the world. I had the opportunity to attend the show at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in Orlando, Florida on May 9.
Fans of the film will not be disappointed with the musical. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and the actors give an outstanding performance that will have audiences rising to their feet to give a standing ovation at the end of the show.
Both the film and the play are about a young lion cub named Simba who, through deception and betrayal of his jealous Uncle Scar, is wrongfully blamed for his father Mufasa’s death and runs away from his home. He meets a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumba, who are outcasts like Simba.
They become friends and live a carefree lives under the motto “hakuna matata”, which means “no worries.” Years pass, and back home, Simba’s uncle rules the kingdom and allows his allies, the hyenas, to eat as much as they like, breaking the circle of life. Now all grown up, Simba’s childhood friend, Nala, leaves the pride in search of help and finds Simba. With the help of the wise mandrill, Rafiki, Simba returns home, confronts his past, defeats Scar, and restores the balance. He finally accepts his rightful place as king, and all is well again in the pride lands.
The show opens with a bang. The Pride Rock is the setting for the first scene, as baby Simba is revealed to the rest of the kingdom as Rafiki and the Ensemble cast belt out the “Circle of Life” with “Nants’ Ingonyama.” The drummers-who are placed on both sides of the stage-closed the opening number with a resounding thump on their African drums, which brought the audience to applaud with excitement and approval for what is to come.
The show is about two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission and moves along at a balanced pace. Act One is the longer of the two acts and the better of the two as well. Act Two opens with the Ensemble cast singing “One by One”, a happy and joyous tune. This leads into Scene One which starts out with vultures hovering in the sky, representing the death and lack of food that has occurred under Scar’s reign. It is a stark contrast.
All of the actors’ performances were wonderful, but there were a few that shone brighter than the rest. Actress Buyi Zama was rightfully cast as Rafiki. Her performance was my favorite, as she made the audience laugh throughout the evening and received the most applause. J. Anthony Crane, who portrayed Scar, was memorable. He portrayed the villain excellently and even received a few boos mixed in with the applause. Finally, Mark David Kaplan, who played Mufasa’s confidant Zazu, was hilarious and provided zingers at the right times during the play.
In addition to the original tunes from the film with music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, the show has additional music and lyrics by Lebo M. Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer. Out of these new tunes, the most notable was “He Lives in You,” which is first performed during the Under the Stars scene in the first act when Mufasa is disciplining Simba. There is a reprise of the song later on in the second act.
Visually, the show is strikingly beautiful with its sets and lighting which bring out the African themes quite well.
The musical features actors in animal costumes that are designed by Julie Taymor, as well as masks and puppets varying in size, also designed by her and Michael Curry. All of the costumes and puppets were colorful and magnificent. The cheetah costume was the coolest, as it featured an actor using their hands to control the front part of the cheetah’s body while their own legs were inside the hind legs of the puppet, propelling the puppet to move as though it was a real cheetah. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
The hyenas were another costume that stood out. The actors’ legs were the hyena’s hind legs, and their hands held sticks molded to look like a hyena’s front legs. Their hyena masks even had moveable mouths.
All in all, The Lion King is a worthy successor to the film. The show will finish its Orlando tour on May 13, so check your local theater to find out when the musical will be coming to your town.
Image Courtesy of The Lion King