Stage version of 'The Lion King' has much to roar about

Friday, August 17, 2012 | by: Mat DeKinder
When it comes to pure stagecraft, you just can't top "The Lion King." The Disney animated classic is brought to life on stage with the use of puppets and elaborate costumes in a visual spectacle that remains unmatched on Broadway.
"The Lion King" is now playing at the Fox Theatre though Sept. 2 and in a lot of ways is the perfect show for a touring production. Because so much of its magic rests on the props and staging, the music and performances need only be adequate to ensure the production is consistently spectacular.
This is not to say the music in the show isn't good. In fact, the tunes penned by Elton John for the film version have stood the test of time and become worldwide hits.
The problem is there aren't enough of those songs to fill out an entire musical, so many of the numbers written just for the stage (with the exception of African-themed tunes like "Nao Tse Tsa" and "One by One") are downright forgettable.
But at the same time, any musical that features the songs "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" can proudly rest on its laurels.
For those of you who have painstakingly avoided children for the past 20 years, "The Lion King" is the saga of a royal family as portrayed by animals on the African savannah.
The kingdom is ruled by the benevolent lion Mufasa (Dionne Randolph), who is trying to school his mischievous cub, Simba (Zavion J.Hill and Adante Power assume the role on different nights), in the kingly arts.
But Mufasa's brother Scar (Brent Harris) has his eyes on the throne and with the help of some treacherous hyenas he hatches a plot to seize the crown which results in young Simba's exile.
Out on his own, Simba befriends a meerkat named Timon (Nick Cordileone) and a warthog named Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), and the three prove inseparable while Simba grows up.
However, Simba (played as an adult by Jelani Remy) cannot escape his past and must return to the kingdom to face Scar and assume his rightful place on the throne.
It's easy to be cynical about this show. It is slavishly devoted to the film version to the point that the dialogue is nearly identical and many of the performers are merely doing impersonations of the actors who originated the roles.
But then the curtain rises and the wise baboon Rafiki (Byui Zama) calls all the animals to pride rock. Before you know it elephants, zebras, rhinos and gazelles are traipsing down the aisles to the beat of thundering drums and you just sit there with your mind blown.
I took my 6-year-old daughter to the show. Watching her reaction to this actor-driven menagerie marching by made the whole night worthwhile.
It really brought home what is great about a live performance and how breathing the same air as the actors can connect you to a story in a way that makes it feel fresh and new no matter how many DVD viewings you've sat through.
"The Lion King" is a treat for all ages and one of those shows that simply must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Don't miss it.
"The Lion King" is now showing at the Fox Theatre through September 2. For tickets call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.
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