On Stage: The Lion King

If you’re looking for one more special effects spectacle to enjoy before summer ends, don’t head to a movie theater. Head to the Fox Theatre where Disney’s live musical production of “The Lion King” just launched an 18-day run.

Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from Disney’s THE LION KING National Tour. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

I was never a big fan of “The Lion King.” I don’t care for anthropomorphized cartoon animals, with the exception of the Looney Tunes gang… and Bullwinkle… and Perry the Platypus. And the prospect of people dressed up like animals gives me nightmares of “Cats” — the worst musical of all time.

I am pleased to report that “The Lion King” is not “Cats,” although I guess lions are cats of a sort. It’s also better than the movie it’s based on, and a truly immersive theatrical experience. At times a myriad of creatures fill the stage, the aisles and the balcony.

Do we really need a plot synopsis for “The Lion King?” Well, it’s a good way to list the talent so let’s breeze through it: Monkey shaman Rafiki (Buyi Zama) calls together the animal kingdom to celebrate the birth of Simba (Zavion J. Hill/Adante Power as a youth; Jelani Remy as an adult) to Lion King Mufasa (Dionne Randolph). Simba’s uncle Scar (Brent Harris), envious of his brother’s station, plots Mufasa’s death with help from his hyena pals (Rashada Dawan, Keith Bennett, Robbie Smith).

Scar convinces Simba he’s responsible for Mufasa’s death by stampede and the young cub runs away to the jungle, where he’s befriended by comedy duo Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). A chance encounter with childhood friend Nala (Khali Bryant/Kailah McFadden/Sade Philip-Demorcy (youth), Syndee Winters as an adult) forces Simba to rethink his carefree existence.

The stage version of “The Lion King” features a colorful and fantastic array of costumes and puppetry used to bring the African savanna to life. The actors, singers and dancers were all in top form. The show expands on the original Elton John/Tim Rice score, including a much heavier African influence. The set design is sharp and the film’s complicated scenes were cleverly translated to the stage.

It’s a joyous and engaging show for children of all ages — provided they’re well behaved. Although I will say that at last night’s performance it was the adults behind us who made more noise than any children in our section.

The Lion King runs through Sept. 2.  http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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