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Review: THE LION KING at Bass Concert Hall

Pride is on display in Austin.

The Lion King

The Lion King

The anticipation in the room was tangible as I sat waiting for The Lion King to begin. The excited questions and comments from a cacophony of children of varied ages filled the space as the house lights dimmed and the curtain rose. It is well known that The Lion King is a visual and auditory spectacle and the North American touring production currently in Austin did not disappoint. I found myself a little verklempt during the well known opening number, The Circle of Life. As a young teenager, The Lion King was the first piece of professional theatre I ever witnessed, and now this production is the first professional piece I've seen since the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world of theatre almost to a stand-still. The appropriateness of The Circle of Life in this moment brought tears to my eyes and filled my heart with pride. This pride in their collective work was clear in the cast as well.

The well known story of The Lion King traces what it means to be king and how jealousy and greed can affect not just the individual, but the group. This cohesive cast wrestled with these ideas through their personification of their animal characters and did so with palpable joy.

Those not familiar with the stage version will be delightfully surprised by the addition of several wonderful songs, including the opening number of Act II, One by One. This incredible vocal number originated on a 1995 album entitled Rhythm of the Pride Lands and in one of Disney's famous short films. The song, sung entirely in Zulu, is uplifting and an English translation of the lyric brings even more meaning. "Hold on tight my people, Don't get weary, Don't lose your strength. We can see, They wanted to hold us back. One by one, They will not succeed..."

The seamless scene changes and display of technical mastery was slightly undercut by a few moments of error. There were a few missed mic cues that meant the beginning of a few critical lines were missed, including one entire line missed during the delightful I Just Can't Wait to Be King. In addition, there was a brief moment of audio feedback during the same song. These are errors I'm sure will be corrected at future performances. It should also be noted that one or both of the follow-spot operators seemed to struggle. As a fellow follow-spot operator I know how difficult the seemingly easy job can be, but there were several awkward moments where primary characters, such as Simba, were in darkness while the spotlight lingered clear above their head or shown on the bottom half of their body rather than the top.

The Lion King
Matthew Murphy, Photographer

The entire cast and crew of this remarkable show are excellent and many deserve to be noted individually. Jaylen Lyndon Hunter and Scarlett London Diviney who play Young Simba and Young Nala respectfully bring the joy and vigor necessary for the roles and clearly have a good time bringing these characters to life. The roles of Scar and Mufasa were originally voiced by Jeremy Irons and James Earl Jones, two iconic voices difficult to match, but Spencer Plachy and Gerald Ramsey made the wall of the theatre shake with their powerful roars. The two percussionists visible on the side of the stage, Stefan Monssen and Reuven Weizberg, deserve to be mentioned as well. They brought the music which is so central to the storytelling of The Lion King out of the orchestra pit and into view. I do wish I had the space to mention each member of the cast and crew and their accomplishment as it is well deserved.

The Lion King runs through April 24th, tickets are available online. While The Lion King is not a show that will go out of style any time soon, I am still venturing to call this production a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed.

Thumbnail photo credit: Deen Van Meer

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