The Lion King thrills with spectacular coming-of-age story
The Lion King explodes onstage with enough colour, innovation and sheer spectacle to propel the audience to their feet at the finale.
The Lion King explodes onstage with enough colour, innovation and sheer spectacle to propel the audience to leap to their feet at the finale. Broadway Across Canada’s touring production tells the coming of age tale of the young Simba with an excellent cast and the same production values one would see on Broadway. And this show is all about the production values.
Running at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until July 12, the Elton John and Tim Rice musical follows the story of the 1994 movie quite accurately. Appropriate for Father’s Day, the father /son tale with clear-cut good guys and bad guys is played out in Africa. With an almost all African American cast, the musical genres cover everything from isicathamiya harmonies, the traditional music of the Zulu people, to hard rock with wailing guitars to pop ballads we’ve come to recognize by John and Rice.
The puppets steal the show. All human-powered, we are allowed to see how they work. A bicycle contraption is a herd of gazelles, a leopard moves stealthily with the manipulator as gorgeous as the puppet, birds twirl overhead and savannah grass is a large flat hat and a hooped skirt worn by the chorus of beautiful men and women.
Directed by Julie Taymor, she of the unnbelievably creative mind, it is based on Disney’s The Lion King. In true Disney fashion however, the story is formulaic and sure to appeal to kids and adults alike. That said, the creativity of the production moves the story way beyond the ordinary.
Rarely have chills with hair standing on end occurred at the start of a show, but this one is truly outstanding.
Rafiki, the sorceress/storyteller, played by Tshidi Manye in the first act and Farah Lopez in the second act, enters at the top speaking one of the official languages of South Africa: Xhosa, filled with clicks and guttural pops.
When the puppets start entering through the aisles with huge elephants, interspersed with twirling birds and begin filling up the stage, the visual impact is mind-blowing. Through the two-and-a-half hour show, that same colourful cacophony becomes the norm.
A very cleverly structure show, when the visual and aural intake becomes too intense, they bring it right down to a meaningful duet between two characters or solo that furthers the character’s inner monologue.
And when the bad guys get too scary, they’re made into fools so the children don’t get frightened. The land of the hyena’s, Scar’s minions, is gothically terrifying but the hyenas are so silly that they won’t be nightmare producing.
Some of the cast is better than others at playing the character’s while maintaining the puppet play. Simba and his love Nala are played both by children and then adults. The older Simba, Jelani Remy, integrates the huge lion's head on his head seamlessly while creating the movement in feline exactitude.
Nick Cordileone as the meerkat Timon, does a bang-up job of hitting the jokes with the movement of the puppet attached to his front side. His side-kick, the wart hog Pumbaa, played by Ben Lipitz, also entertains with his dopey fart jokes.
The chorus is filled with fabulous dancers realizing Garth Fagan’s original choreography that honours both his modern and Afro-Caribbean style. The chorus,directed by Rick Snyder and accompanied by a truly fantastic orchestra, also sounds great.