BWW Review: THE LION KING at Old National Centre
It seems impossible to improve upon a classic, but the touring company of The Lion King has managed just that. It has shown that classics become so for a reason, and they can still take on new life in the hands of a talented director and cast.
First of all, despite having been around for many years, The Lion King still has impeccable and stunning visuals. The flurry of colors and patterns and sheer creativity was astounding. It made your senses explode with excitement; you hardly knew where to look. Beyond that, the level of physical and musical demand made on the cast of this musical is incredibly high. There were elements of many genres of dance, and the music in no way lacked in comparison to the film version. The pit orchestra, and especially the percussionists, were quite talented.
Amongst the performers, the one that stood out most to me was Rafiki, played by Mukelisiwe Goba. She spoke to me of the joys and sorrows that impact the community of the Pridelands, whether it came in the form of song, dance, or laughter. The sheer range of emotion conveyed in her performance made her a highly dynamic part of the show.
After our interview with Gerald Ramsey, Mufasa, my expectations were incredibly high for his performance, knowing the devotion he has to his role. I was in no way disappointed. He had a presence that radiated from the stage and an innate dignity and regal air. In addition, his vocal performance of "They Live In You" resonated throughout the rest of the show as his words to Simba echoed in his son's heart. (I also would like to take this chance to say that if he gets his chance at his dream role, Moana's father, I would be sure to get tickets!)
It would be a mistake to neglect two of my absolute favorite characters, Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). The way that they had to balance singing, dancing, AND puppetry made their performance that much more impressive. They also did an excellent job not trying to recreate the characters directly from the cartoon but had their own ways to make the roles their own. And their roles will have you rolling!
THE LION KING was so pure and simply epic. Julie Taymor's magical African animals marched down the aisles and the balcony seats over the stage became alive with percussionists... there was simply no room left for the mind of children and adults in the theater to wander.
As an audience member, you will gape again and again at the imaginative visual majesty of this show, completely brought to life through masks, costuming, and puppets of Taymor and Michael Curry, the scenic design by Richard Hudson, and Donald Holder's inventive elemental lighting. Seeing everything come together, there was a pull to this music even though I had not see the movie in years, and when the performers take to the aisles, their puppets in tow, the show takes on a whole new feeling.
The words, feelings, and the asides are very familiar from the movie, but are somehow not old. The exceptional songs, with music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice. This production did include some additional music and lyrics (by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Hans Zimmer and Taymor). These additions add a more authentic sense of tribal rhythms and call-and-response choruses, making for a more authentic experience.
The show's other highlights only begin to start with that amazing procession of animals during the song "Circle of Life," combined with the indigenous incantation of "Nants' Ingonyama." It was masterfully delivered by Mukelisiwe Goba as the mandrill Rafiki, who again raises goosebumps with her reprise of "He Lives in You."
Gerald Ramsey, whom we previously interviewed, takes on the commanding father as Mufasa, and Chante Carmel took on the very appealing and composed Sarabi. While Mark Campbell might not break ground as the villain Scar, he does get the menace and all that homicidal envy perfect.
The film's many madcap, comical characters were in good hands too. Greg Jackson's hilarious puppetry and portrayal as Zazu almost stole the show and were perfection wound up in feathers and wild eyes.
This is an evening of truly memorable theater, combined with the delights of folklore, life lessons, kid-friendly laughs, and fraught with universal drama-all delivered to us again by a dream cast.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy