The theater is a wonderful magical place that can bring all the animals from an African Savannah to the aisles of the Arsht Center in Miami. The opening of “Walt Disney’s The Lion King” is a stunner that has the audience cheering from the start. The show is spectacular from that opening number to the curtain call when we once again see all the animals. The book, written by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, isn’t as strong as the rest of the production but then as much as she did Julie Taymor couldn’t do everything.
Among the aspects Taymor was responsible for were the directing, costume design, mask and puppet design (along with Michael Curry), additional music and lyrics along with Lebo M. Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and Hans Zimmer adding to the original score by Elton John and Tim Rice and they are the strongest parts of the musical. The scenic designs by Richard Hudson encompass all her work eliciting gasps and awe from the audience. The choreographer, Garth Fagan, is watched over by his associate choreographer Marey Griffith while John Stefaniuk continues his work as Taymor’s associate director.
The show opens with King Mufasa (Dionne Randolph) and Queen Sarabi (Tryphena Wade) presenting their new born cub Simba to all the gathered animals. Scar (J. Anthony Crane) ,Mufasa’s brother, laments that he is no longer the next to be king. The multitude of players then embark on a Shakespearean tale of love, loss, exile and, yes, happy ever after which is more Hollywood than Shakespeare.
We meet a young Simba (Adante Power) ,who may be a little too scrawny to be a lion cub, and Nala (Sade Phillip-Demorcy) the female cub who at first is his friend. In the second act they are grown and the roles are played by Jelani Remy, a strong, looking king to be who has the best voice in the company and Syndee Winters, who looks and acts like a queen from her first appearance on stage.
Along the journey we meet Rafiki, (Buyi Zama) almost a narrator of the show, Zazu (Mark David Kaplan) a hornbill who is an advisor to the King, Timon (Nick Cordilone) a meerkat and Pumba (Ben Lipitz) a warthog who bring much needed humor to the show, The hyenas Shenzi (Rashada Dawan), Banzai (Keith Bennett) and Ed (Robbie Swift) are menacing as they should be and, in their own way, ugly. All the dancing, singing and acting really takes second place to all the production values which stop the show in a good way, such as the scene made up of stars and lights that come together to present King Mufasa’s face to Simba.
The orchestra, conducted by Rick Snyder, is made up of about 18 members including Stefan Monssen and Reuven Weizberg standouts on percussions, each one in a box on opposite sides of the theatre.
“Walt Disney’s The Lion King” is a must see show, if for nothing else the opening number, for the magic an American musical can cast over an audience. It will be in Miami for 4 weeks.
1st act 1 hour and 20 minutes Intermission 25 minutes 2nd act 1 hour