New Amsterdam Theatre
214 West 42nd Street
Potomac Stages Broadway
The Lion King
Julie Taymor's incredibly inventive stage adaptation of the Disney film looks just about as fabulous as it did when it first opened to unanimous acclaim four years ago. Since then it has played to sold out houses and it shows no signs of slowing down. It also shows no signs of age, staying as fresh and as colorful and as exciting as it was when it opened.
Storyline: The stage adaptation expands on the Disney animated film but retains its basic plot line of the king of beasts raising his son to succeed him but who is killed by his jealous brother who then sends the son off into exile and assumes the thrown. When the son grows up he returns to reclaim his birthright and save the animal kingdom from the ruinous rule of his evil uncle.
Taymorís adaptation is uniquely hers even though there are notable contributions from many other artists. The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice have a number of fine moments with a strongly atmospheric sound. Additional musical materials combine to enhance the content of the original score. The book by the co-creators of the screenplay is efficient if slight and there are performances by an extremely talented troupe who work hard.
But The Lion King on stage is definitely Julie Taymorís vision, from the moment the lights dim. She took a marvelously visual movie and converted it into a unique visual experience, which is tied more to the origins of theater as spectacle than theater as literature. From leaping antelope to lumbering elephants, from living savanna grasses to draught dried lakes, from burning suns to sparkling stars, from leering hyenas to crying lionesses, from flying buzzards to flitting fireflies, from towering rock formations to looming monster skeletons, from scampering shadow puppets to visages of the Lion King himself, there is a new marvel at every turn.
Two of the original leads and a strong cast of replacement talent deliver all that is expected of them. Samuel E. Wright as the Lion King raising a son to succeed him and Tom Alan Robbins as Pumbaa the wart hog (now teamed with John E. Brady as his pal Timon) are veterans of the opening night. Joining them are Sheila Gibbs who is particularly impressive as the chanting visage Rafiki and Derek Smith is a commandingly evil Scar. The grown up Simba and Nala are Christopher Jackson and Sharon L. Young, both of whom are strong of voice and characterization. Tony Freeman now operates the hand puppet Zazu with dexterity and agility. A particular challenge for the casting director of this long-running hit must be coming up with talented children for the parts of young Simba and Nala who have to act, dance and sing with energy and charm. That challenge was certainly well met with Mykel Bath and Aaliyyah Hill the night we reviewed the show.
Directed 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, Tsidii Le Loka. Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Choreographed by Garth Fagan. Scenic design by Richard Hudson. Costume design by Julie Taymor. Lighting design by Donald Holder. Mas and puppet design by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry. Sound design by Tony Meola. Orchstrations by Robert Elhai, David Metzger and Bruce Fowler. Music direction by Joseph Church. Cast: Derek Smith, Samuel E. Wright, Sheila Gibbs, John E. Brady, Tony Freeman, Tom Alan Robbins, Christopher Jackson, Sharon L. Young, Curtis Ií Cook, Lana Gordon, Timothy Gulan, Mykel Bath, Aaliyyah Hill.
Directed by Julie Taymor
Most Music and Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice
Running time 2 hours 45 minutes
Price range $30 - $95