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BWW Review: The Spectacle of THE LION KING

Aaron Nelson as Simba on Pride Rock.
Photo by Joan Marcus

When it comes to spectacle, Disney is king.

When it comes to breakout Broadway hits, the lion is king.

Disney's The Lion King has dominated the stage for almost 20 years and audiences still flock to the theatre whenever the show migrates into a new city -- or even an old city as the show makes its return to Overture Center.

Why? Because - despite the fact that many people may be seeing it for the second, third, or even the fifth time - it still insights a particular feeling that so many other shows simply cannot.

It insights childish wonder.

The show, based on its 1994 cinematic counterpart, follows the life of a precocious lion cub on his journey through life to find his place as king in the circle of life - it's a coming of age story set to African music in amazing Technicolor and comprised of a cast of breathtaking puppets.

But Simba's story is complicated by his regicidal uncle Scar (Patrick R. Brown) and his band of wily hyenas. It is up to Simba to trust in the wisdom of old Rafiki (Mukelisiwe Goba), the whacky duo Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog (Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz), and his own ambition to lead him back to the Pridelands to reclaim his father Mufasa's throne.

Leading this menagerie of performers is, interestingly enough, Brown as Scar. His keen sense of movement and velvety tone lend a calculating paw to the villainy. Brown plays the role with ease as he sneers his way to power and captures the audience squarely in his grasp.

While Aaron Nelson (Simba) is an equally captivating player in this production, but his voice struggled to hit the higher notes in his register. But it is Nelson's stage presence and joy in the role that makes him a strong Simba. His brightest moment was when he was finally alone on stage for a moment during the introspective song "Endless Night".

Nia Holloway (Nala) too found her spotlight during a reflective song, "Shadowland", and her lovely voice was an excellent counterpoint to the gorgeous undertone of the ensemble lionesses.

Aside from the characters that many audience members know and love, what makes The Lion King so powerful is its unprecedented dedication to African culture and artistic beauty.

The Tree of Life during the "Grasslands Chant".
Photo by Joan Marcus

Scenic designer Richard Hudson's aesthetic lives somewhere between realism and cartoon. He combines the two and gives the show a combination that should satisfy the film and theatre lovers alike.

Pride Rock doesn't resemble so much a majestic rock formation as it does a simplistic ledge, for example. And The Tree of Life is the familiar baobab tree surrounded by images and etchings rather than leaves.

But, when it comes to the animals to live among those set pieces, realistic movement is key.

Director Julie Taymor and Choreographer Garth Fagan blend the human and animal worlds together in a way that is almost indescribable.

At first glance, an ensemble member gracefully crossing the stage as a section of a cheetah is merely a performer attached to a puppet. But after a moment, that performer disappears into the illusion of the animal. Puppets (designed by Taymor and Michael Curry) that move with unfathomable realism become the performers.

For anyone who has had the chance to visit Disney World or Disney Land and see the firework or light shows, the level of spectacle involved in this production is expected. Disney goes above and beyond to bring as much magic to the stage as possible.

As for the company's foray into Broadway - The Lion King is nothing short of spectacular.

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From This Author Amanda Finn

Amanda lives in Madison, WI and joined BWW in the spring of 2014. She has relished every moment spent in a theatre since then. She (read more...)