Review: 'Lion King' returns with pageantry
Donna Isbell Walker , [email protected] 12:28 a.m. ET June 2, 2017
It’s been five years since Simba, Nala and the other animals of Pride Rock last sauntered into the Peace Center, but half a decade has dimmed none of the spectacle of the visually arresting Broadway production of “Disney’s The Lion King.”
The Tony Award-winning musical opened a 3½-week run on Wednesday. I saw Thursday evening’s performance, and was just as struck by the creativity and imaginative storytelling as I was back in 2012.
The parade of animals that opens the production will still make your jaw drop as you watch spindly-legged giraffes and lumbering elephants and women dressed as white-winged birds make their way down the aisles and up to the stage.
The story is a familiar one to anyone who saw the animated 1994 film: The good King Mufasa is raising his cub Simba to follow in his paw prints, but Mufasa’s evil brother Scar, aided by his mob of henchmen/hyenas, engineers Mufasa’s death in a stampede, pinning the blame on Simba.
Not much has changed — though there is a new joke about the ubiquitous “Frozen” anthem “Let It Go” – but familiarity isn’t a liability in this case. As Zazu, the bird who is King Mufasa’s majordomo (or “major Dumbo,” as the hyenas put it), Drew Hirshfield gets some of the most familiar lines, but he makes the most of them.
The scenes are depicted in a color-coded shorthand. When things are in their rightful order at Pride Rock, the backdrops are sunny yellows and oranges. Later, when Scar takes over, the colors are bleak grays and washed-out browns.
Even the vegetation is living and breathing, brought to life by dancers whose bodies simulate the swaying of grass and leaves, to the point that you almost forget those are humans in those leafy costumes.
The acting is good across the board, and the emotional arc ranges from silly to guilt-stricken and everything in between.
Dashaun Young as the adult Simba and Nia Holloway as the grown-up Nala have a nice chemistry when their characters are reunited after many years apart. They move gracefully as the two size each other up and Nala pins Simba down, just as she did when they were cubs.
Rafiki, the wise baboon, is played by actress Buyi Zama, who returns in the role she performed here in 2012. Zama has a great voice and plenty of stage presence, to the point that she generates laughs even while speaking another language.
Mark Campbell is appropriately creepy and hiss-worthy as the villainous Scar, and Timon the meerkat (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa the warthog (Ben Lipitz) make a great comic team, and the actors play off each other well.
The circle of real life comes around to moments of joy, despair, corny jokes and awe-inspiring beauty, and so too, does “Disney’s The Lion King.”
“Disney’s The Lion King” runs through June 25 at the Peace Center. For more info, go to www.peacecenter.org.