By Bob Evans
Kansas City roared and welcomed Disney’s “The Lion King” on Thursday, May 10 to huge anticipation, robust ticket sales, and a standing ovation for the Broadway classic, now traversing the nation while still packing them in on Broadway with over 8,500 performances and counting since its opening in November 1997.
“Giraffes strut. Birds swoop. Gazelles leap. The entire Serengeti comes to life as never before. And as the music soars, Pride Rock slowly emerges from the mist. This is Disney’s ‘The Lion King’, making its triumphant return!” according to Theater League of Kansas City.
They are right. The opening number astounds as the animal puppets make their way down the two main aisles of the theatre. While an elephant, rhinoceros, and other animals come to the stage, the upper loge and balcony area also see Arial puppets flying at the corners before they disappear from the upper areas and join the parade on the main floor toward the stage.
Never will audiences see an entrance like this. It’s overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Audiences gasp, giggled, applauded and younger viewers craned their necks to watch in amazement as the animal parade collected on stage at Pride Rock to welcome the baby lion, Simba, to be crown prince of the lion pride. The now and future king is born and presented to the assembled audience of beats and theater patrons.
“Winner of six Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, ‘The Lion King’ brings together one of the most imaginative creative teams on Broadway. Tony® Award-winning director Julie Taymor brings to life a story filled with hope and adventure set against an amazing backdrop of stunning visuals. ‘The Lion King’s also features the extraordinary work of Tony® Award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan and some of Broadway’s most recognizable music, crafted by Tony® Award-winning artists Elton John and Tim Rice,” a Theater League spokesman said.
With national tours, audiences expect the same standards as if attending a Broadway performance, and Disney’s “The Lion King” delivers all the goods. Kansas City audiences will feel like they have been transported to Broadway for this production. It’s flawless. It’s spectacular. It’s exactly what you pay
Some have mentioned that prices are high for this show, but, when one sees the costumes, size of cast, puppets, hears the music, experiences the lighting, choreography, sound, projection, and special effects, the cost of delivering this show appear minimal. “The Lion King” costs a fortune to travel.
The characters in “The Lion King” are solid characters, though shown as animals. There are loving parents who try to teach their children life-lessons for their own good. The main character, Simba, undergoes lots of learning and makes mistakes–like many kids. He ges mislead, in this case by a jealous uncle who wants to be king of the jungle. Childhood mistakes lead to a tragedy and only through maturation can the son return to claim his thrown and restore peace to his kingdom. It’s a great story. It’s simple, but with a great supporting cast of characters who bring the story to life.
The national tour succeeds in creating a solid cast who can deliver the singing, acting, dancing, and puppeteering that make this show the spectacular experience it is. While the audience sees what’s on the stage and is mesmerized, it the technical aspects that meld this show into new standards for theater.
The meanest and most nasty, jealous villain, in this case lion, come in the form of Scar, brilliantly played by Mark Campbell. At times he displays the bitchiness of an angry gay man, and the next, the evilness of the most dastardly, villain. His performance roars with evil, and sinister tones. He’s delightfully devilish as he plots and plans his revenge.
Strong performances come from Gerald Ramsey, Mukelisiwe Goba, Nick Cordileone, Ben Jeffrey, and Aaron Nelson as principal elements of the show. Ramsey as Musafa give a solid performance as the devoted father who will risk his life to save his son. Nelson as the coming-of-age Simba shows the power to overcome fear and gain strength when needed. Cordileone and Jeffrey create a comic Lauren and Hardyesque duo as Timon and Pumba. And, Goba, as Rafiki is funny throughout.
Nia Halloway, Keith Bennett, Martina Sykes, Robbie Swift, Danielle W. Jalade, Joziyah Jean-Felix, Gloria Manning, and Ramon Reed give good support to the main characters and deserve credit.
One of this reviewer’s favorite characters in “The Lion King” was Zazu, played by Greg Jackson. Strangely, he has a connection to a local actor who commented on Jackson’s performance after the opening: “ He showcases his impeccable comic timing with a Shakespearean flair in his portrayal of Zazu, It was a real treat to see him on stage, and once again see him ignite laughter and applause with finesse and flair.”
“More than 90 million people around the world have experienced the awe-inspiring visual artistry, the unforgettable music, and the uniquely theatrical storytelling of this Broadway spectacular – one of the most breathtaking and beloved productions ever to grace the stage,” Theater League of Kansas City said of this productions.
Performers on stage get the applause, but to create their magic, the production crews also need recognition. To make theater magic, give a nod to the scenic designers, costume designers and staff, lighting designers, mask and puppet designers, sound design, hair and makeup designers, music supervision and accompaniment, musical direction, directors and assistant directors, technical directors and crew, and so many more who make this show the spectacular theater experience it is. Just to pack, unpack, move and set up this project takes expertise. The behind the scene work shows in the live performances each and every time the curtain rises.
The performance will begin promptly at the advertised curtain time. Late-comers will be held outside of the theater until the company approved entrance time.
“The Lion King” continues through May 27 at The Music Hall in downtown’s Municipal Auditorium complex. Tickets may be purchased online through Theater League of Kansas City’s website. Ticket demand is strong with only limited seats to some performances. The show is appropriate for all ages. “The Lion King” is part of Theater League’s Broadway series and is produced by Broadway Across America.