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BWW Review: THE LION KING at Key Bank State Theatre/Playouse Square


THE LION KING, a gentle roar, at State Theatre

BWW Review: THE LION KING at Key Bank State Theatre/Playouse Square

THE LION KING, whose North American touring company, which recently opened in CLE's Playhouse Square's Key Bank State Theatre, has an enviable record. It is the third longest running show in Broadway history, clocking a little over 9,300 curtain raisers. Only THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (12,370) and the revival of CHICAGO (9,692) have had longer Great White way runs.

The Julie Taymor inspired stage show, she was the Broadway show's director, costume and mask co-designer, has had over 25 global productions and is the only show in history to generate six worldwide productions running 15 or more years. It has been performed in eight different languages (Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese), and its worldwide gross exceeds that of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history.

The original production won six 1998 Tony Awards and has earned more than 70 major arts awards.

The score features Elton John and Tim Rice's songs from THE LION KING animated film along with three new songs and additional musical material. The resulting sound is a fusion of Western popular music and the sounds and rhythms of Africa.

The touring production, which was rehearsed in Cleveland after its pause for the pandemic, was staged by Julie Taymor, the first woman to win a Tony Award for Direction of a Musical. She supervises new productions of the show around the world.

South African, Gugwana Diamini, who has appeared in both stage and film versions of THE LION KING, shines as the storytelling Rafiki. Ben Lipitz (Pumbaa, the warthog) and Nick Cordileone (Timon, the meerkat) delight. Their "Hakuna Matata" is a show highlight.

Darian Sanders (Adult Simba) and Kayla Cyphers (Adult Nala) have fine singing voices, but develop shallow characterizations. Their "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," was lovely.

In other major roles, Spencer Plachy (Scar), lacks the menace and venom to create the script's fearsome villain. (This may be the production's way of cutting down the violence which could scare children who are a primary audience demographic.).

While somewhat humorous, the hyenas are lacking in the needed Three-Stooges farcical presence.

Taymor's puppets, whose entrance as they march down the aisles and fill the stage to participate in the "Circle of Life" opening, are breathtaking. The opening number has to be one of the most encompassing and joyous moments in any musical.

The score is multi-textured, the songs memorable, but, in this production, the power and pacing of the music often seemed almost lackadaisical.

CAPSUAL JUDGEMENT: With its stellar credentials one would expect the Playhouse Square's production to be spectacular. The sets, costumes, puppets, and special effects are. Unfortunately, the quality performances and dynamics needed to make the performance shine, are often in short supply. This is THE LION KING light...a gentle roar, compared to previous dynamic stagings.

How to Get Tickets

THE LION KING runs at the Key Bank State Theatre from October 1-15, 2021. For tickets and information go to or call 216-640-8800.

The next major theatrical presentation in Playhouse Square is THE PROM, part of the Key Bank Broadway Series, playing from November 2-21, 2021. WICKED tours in December 8, 2021 through January 2, 2022.

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