by Lynn on April 21, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Princess of Wales Theatre. Directed, costumes and mask and puppet designs by Julie Taymor. Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice. Additional music and lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, Hans Zimmer. Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Set by Richard Hudson. Lighting by Donald Holder. Choreography by Garth Fagan. Starring: Dusan Brown, Nick Cardileone, J. Anthony Crane, Tony Freeman, Brenda Mhlongo, Dionne Randolph, Ben Rosebury,

Presented by Disney.

This Disney musical is of course based on the Disney animated film about a young lion cub named Simba who learns the hard way how to be king of his kingdom. First he has to deal with the death of his father Mufasa because he is convinced he is responsible. Then there is Simba’s power hungry, evil uncle Scar—a name that says it all. Not to mention a pack of hideous hyenas that keep on rearing their ugly heads. Simba runs away but eventually must face his demons and fight for what is rightfully his.

The Lion King is theatrically dazzling thanks to director Julie Taymor’s vivid imagery, her evocative mask and puppet designs along with Michael Curry, and her creative costumes. All this is years before she seems to ‘have lost it’ with the troubled Broadway musical, Spider-Man, Turn off the Dark.You have to think long and hard to remember a more thrilling first scene than the one in The Lion King, of the entrance of various graceful jungle animals, depicted by the most evocative puppets and costumes. That and the combination of Elton John’s music make that vision and so many more in this show just irresistible.

As befitting a show based on an animated film, the acting generally is overblown and cartoonish. Mufasa is played by a deep-voiced Dionne Randolph with his hands on his hips and his strong stance. He is every inch a senior king and a good tutor to his young son Simba. As the dastardly Scar, J. Anthony Crane slinks and scowls around the stage. All he needs is a moustache to twirl for the final evil touch. The hyenas are hilarious. But the best of the lot is the young actor who plays young Simba— Jerome Stephens Jr. He is energetic, charismatic and commanding. I want to see that kid in 10 years.

The chorus work and individual singing is very strong, with Brenda Mhlongo as Rifiki
a powerhouse.

The aspects that delighted on first viewing of The Lion King still work here. But I couldn’t help think this production looks a bit cramped even on the large stage of the Princess of Wales Theatre; the stampede of the wildebeests is just a touch too quick and sloppy. The creation of that scene is still a marvel of invention but perhaps it’s a bit tired in execution in this touring production.

Still I envy anyone who is experiencing this show for the first time. It’s a terrific introduction for kids to the theatre. But make sure they are not too young. If you have to explain everything to a child’s endless questions during the show, the kid is too young. The only thing a kid learns here is that it’s ok to talk during the show—and it’s not ok. If the parent feels compelled to explain everything during the show, then the parent is too stupid. I had a combination of both in front of me at the opening this evening. Not pleasant. For age appropriate kids and their theatre loving parents, this show is a treat.

The Lion King plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre until June 12, 2011.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.