You WILL Feel The Love Tonight: A Review Of The Lion King

Disney’s The Lion King is a phenomenon onto itself. It has succeeded in every venue that it has appeared in thus far. From its smash debut, as a full-length featured animated film, it became a smash on the screen. Later, it became more of a success as a stage musical. The stage production is a perfect holiday gift for any age, and has opened in Seattle at the Paramount Theatre. This production runs through January 6, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.

The storyline is the classic tale of a boy becoming a man. In this version, it takes place in the Pridelands of Africa, a plentiful and balanced life among the African animal lifestyles. Simba is the young son of King Mufasa and QueenSarabi. Being the heir, Simba is not the favorite of the king’s brother Scar,who bitterly resents being usurped by the young cub. With the help of thehyenas, Scar plots to kill Mufasa and chases Simba off to an assumed death.Simba becomes friends with Timon and Pumbaa (a Merecat and a Warthog) who showhim how to appreciate life and forget the past. In time, Scar has destroyed thePridelands and has started turning his attention to Nala, originally Simba’sbetrothed bride. Nala runs off to escape and accidentally comes across a nowfully-grown lion, Simba. She convinces him to see the king inside of himselfand to return to the Pridelands to overthrow Scar, and to reclaim his rightfulthrone.  

Seeing The Lion King is more than seeing a stage musical. It is seeing a stunning visual banquet of delights and absolute amazement. Much has deservedly been said about Julie Taymor’s costume designs and for very good reason. Watching fully-grown elephants and rhinoceros, each manned by several skillful puppeteers, will puta semi-permanent look of astonishment on any viewers face. From the acrobats on stilts causing giraffes to walk across the stage, or the simple fluttering of colorful birds overhead, the performers that transform these animals to life are definitely what makes this less of a musical, and more of a spectacle ofincredulity and surprise.

 Mpume Sikakane set the stage as the monkey “Rafiki”. Rafiki is part shaman, part narrator, and part comic relief. Rafiki calls the animals of the Savannah to Pride Rock to announce the birth of the young cub Simba. Greg Jackson plays “Zazu”, the bird secretary to the king and the one to overlook the young Simba.Mr. Jackson adds a great mixture of humor and expression to his role. The fact that he makes a bird puppet become such an integral part of the musical, speaks wonders for not only his talent but his comic chameleon attitude as well. Gerald Ramsey plays “Mufasa”, the King of Pride Rock. He shows the strength of a king and the love of a great father to his son. His voice is soft and a powerful lullaby as he sings the important lesson of legacy to his son in the haunting “They Live in You”.

 The young (and enthusiastic) cubs are played by Joziyah Jean-Felix (Simba) and Danielle W. Jalade (Nala). Their energy is contagious and everyone in the audience immediately identifies with their restlessness and frustration at being a child and being responsible. The song “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” absolutely belongs to these two, and they look like they are having the time of their lives doing it.

Mukelisiwe Goba (Rafiki) ©Disney.  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Mukelisiwe Goba (Rafiki) ©Disney. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Adult Simba (Jared Dixon) and Nala (Nia Holloway) are equally as good in their roles as their younger counterparts. When Mr. Dixon laments his emotional conflicts in “Endless Night”, not only does the audience feel his pain, but we seem to share it as well. His voice is strong and easily emotes to the back of the house. Not to be outdone, Ms. Holloway demonstrates a powerful instrument of her own. As she mourns having to leave her home in “Shadowlands”, Ms. Holloway’svoice is full of sorrow letting everyone in the audience feel her torment. Both of these songs easily leave a tear in the eye of anyone hearing them.

 The villains of the musical are obviously the hyenas and Uncle Scar. The three main hyenas are Shenzi (played by Martina Sykes), Banzai (played by Keith Bennett), and Ed (played by Robbie Swift). Acting like a Greek Trio Chorus, the three of them represent the minions that Scar raises as his army. Ms. Sykes and Mr.Bennett have good voices as they vocalize the intellectually challengedcreatures. Mr. Swift’s work as the wordless, giggling ‘Ed’ is nothing but comicrelief and enjoyment.

 Scar is played by Spencer Plachy. Mr. Placy adds the right among of lethargy and conniving energy to allow the audience to know his plans, and yet does not frighten the younger members watching him. His voice is strong as he instructs his minions in the song “Be Prepared”, and his actions are intimidating enough without being over the top.

The Lion King is a beautiful stage experience. The storyline may not be the most original (it has been called “Hamlet Gone Safari” among other critiques), but the music is close to being perfect. Sir Elton John (music) and Sir Tim Rice(lyrics) created an absolutely lush score for the original Disney film feature. Additional songs have been added with music and/or lyrics penned by: Hans Zimmer, Lebo M., Jay Rifkin, Mark Mancina, and Julie Taymor herself. There is a reason why this show is called “America’s Number One Musical”, and that’s because it delivers.

The Lion King is based on the 1994 Disney animated feature. Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton wrote the film with a musical score by Sir(s) Elton John and Tim Rice. Three of the five songs written were nominated for Best Original Song Academy Award: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” won. The stage musical opened on Broadway in 1997 and it is still currently running. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards (1998) and won six of them, including 1998 Best Musical. A 2019 release live-action film is set for release.

The Lion King plays at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through January 6, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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