THE LION KING Tour Brings Spectacular Theatrical Magic to Civic Center
Since the dawn of theater, audiences have marveled at spectacular moments brought to life on stage. Throughout their history, plays and musicals have utilized the talents of theater artists and professionals to do what may have seemed impossible. Today, modern technology makes it possible to dig even deeper into our imaginations and bring to life what's found there. Few shows have excited and fulfilled our collective imagination the way The Lion King has and the touring production currently playing at the Civic Center remains as spectacular as ever.
Adapted from the 1994 animated Disney move of the same name, The Lion King tells the story of young Simba, a lion king growing up under the watchful eye of his father, Mufasa. Mufasa also happens to be the king of the animals, a benevolent and loving ruler who plans to one day pass his kingdom on to his son. That plan is derailed by Mufasa's brother, Scar, who plots and schemes to rid the savanna of both the once and the future king. When Mufasa is out of the way, Scar takes over the throne and it's up to Simba to find the courage to stand up to his uncle and claim his rightful place.
When one digs a little into the numbers behind this Broadway juggernaut, its success is almost as spectacular as the magic that happens on stage. It won six Tony Awards, including best musical, scenic design, costume design, lighting design, choreography and direction, as well as seventy other arts awards. It's only the second show in history that has had five productions around the world, with each one running more than ten years. It has been translated into eight languages and has been seen in over 100 cities in nineteen countries. This touring production includes 200 puppets, representing twenty-five different animals, and a total of 134 people who are involved in the day-to-day operations of the show. It requires three days of prep and four days of on-site preparation in the space before it can even open in each new city.
Much of what we see on stage is the brainchild of Julie Taymor, who is the show's director, costume designer and mask co-designer. There aren't really enough ways to describe her brilliance in what she and her team created for this show. Their creativity and imagination seem endless as each new scene and moment open up a whole new world of wonder. From the first moment of the production, when the theater is filled to bursting, it seems, with animals heading through the house and onto the stage, this show never lets up on the sights, sound, and spectacle that surround the audience right until the final bows are taken.
Of course, all of that visual spectacle is accompanied by glorious music, both from the movie and music added for the Broadway production. The music and lyrics are by Elton John and Tim Rice, with additional music and lyrics by Lebo M., Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer. The beloved classics are here, of course, such as "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." There's also quite a bit of wonderful and interesting African music which brings a different feel to parts of the musical than there was in the movie. It adds another layer to the story and makes it seem more real, more alive, than if it was all just a scene-by-scene live version of the cartoon.
The Lion King has played in many places and had a number of tours, and some of this cast are veterans of those other productions. It is no doubt a unique and exhilarating musical to be a part of. Leading the way in this production is Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa. It's fitting for this role that Ramsey absolutely commands the stage every time he's on it. His stage presence is undeniable, his charisma is electric. He's cast perfectly in this role, which he seems born to play. Along with all of his cast-mates, he also does stellar work utilizing the animal headdress that he wears, morphing into a lion seamlessly.
As Zazu, Mufasa's right-hand-bird, Drew Hirshfield steals almost every scene he is in. His puppetry work with the bird Zazu is perfection and often hilarious, as is his perfect comic timing and wonderful delivery of the show's best comic moments. Hirshfield's performance is a major high point in the show and almost worth the price of admission by itself.
Then again, there are a number of stellar individual performances here that might be worth the price of admission by themselves. Another is Nick Cordileone as Timon. His puppetry work is finely tuned and often astonishing. He also brings Timon's personality to life perfectly and has his fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. Timon's sidekick, Pumbaa, is played by Ben Lipitz, who is also excellent. He's hidden somewhat by the enormous costume he wears, a costume that still requires some skilled puppetry work which he pulls off perfectly. His chemistry with Cordileone, so important for the two partners-in-crime is also spot-on. Surprisingly, "Hakuna Matata" ends Act I as a low-energy disappointment, but maybe it was just an off night.
Excellent chemistry is also evident between Simba, played by Dashaun Young, and Nala, played by Nia Holloway. Their scenes together are wonderful, with their big number together, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," one of the show's musical high points. Young proves he has the skill and talent to pull off both the physical requirements for the role as well as the necessary emotional turmoil. For her part, Holloway is his equal, creating a Nala who is just as tough, brave and smart as Simba.
As the nefarious Scar, Mark Campbell is good but not great. He's a little too low key and low energy, a little too understated. It could be argued that his lack of charisma when compared to the actors playing Mufasa and Simba works for the role, since Scar is less of a lion than they are. Having said that, Campbell does bring a nice level of sinister deviousness and deceitfulness to the role, even if he never seems all that threatening.
There is, of course, an enormous ensemble as well. They are all incredibly talented dancers and singers, as well as masters of the puppets they control when called upon to do so. These include puppets that represent creatures from birds, giraffes and zebras to a stampede of hundreds of wildebeest. That scene, of the massive stampede, is one of the most remarkable and breathtaking moments in a show that's full of them. If you have kids, whether they know the movie or not, they will love it. Even if you don't have kids, you should not miss a stunning production of a show that everyone should see at least once, if not many times, in their life.
THE LION KING runs through May 28th with performances Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. There will be a 2pm performance on Friday, May 26 and there will be no 6:30 performance on Sunday, May 28. Tickets are available by calling 405-297-2264, Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm, or online at OkcBroadway.com.