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BWW Review: DISNEY'S THE LION KING at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis


The Lion King stampedes into the Orpheum Theatre Memphis

BWW Review: DISNEY'S THE LION KING  at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis IT IS TIME.

Disney's The Lion King roars its way back into Memphis and audiences are thrilled to welcome the popular show back to the Orpheum stage! Always a Memphis favorite, the show is pure magic for its audiences, adults and children alike.

I honestly don't remember the first time I saw The Lion King on film, but I do remember the first time I saw it on stage. I was mesmerized by the puppetry, the dancing, the music, the brightly colored costumes, and the incredible likeness to to the film. It was one of the first shows that made me turn to my mother and say "I want to do that when I'm older. I want to make art like that. I want to make magic." Years later, I announced to my mother that I was going to study theatre in college, where I could make art all the time. A little after that, I announced that I was moving to Orlando, Florida to work for Walt Disney World, where I could make magic all the time. Disney's The Lion King contributed to that.

The show opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13th, 1997. Indeed, it is a very special weekend for The Lion King, as it will be celebrating 24 years on Broadway! It won 6 Tony Awards in 1998, including Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical. Julie Taymor, the show's director, costume designer, and mask co-designer became the first woman to win a Tony Award for Direction of a Musical, and continues to supervise new productions as the show continues to dazzle audiences around the world.

Tonight's anniversary performance on Broadway will be dedicated to the memory of the creator of the role of Mufasa in the original 1997 production and the marquees of the New Amsterdam and the Minskoff Theatres will be dimmed. Samuel E. Wright, best known for voicing the role of Sebastian in Disney's The Little Mermaid, received a Tony nomination for the role of Mufasa and was a long-time member of The Lion King Family. Wright passed away earlier this year, on May 24th at the age of 74.

The show's opener, The Circle of Life, immediately captivates the audience and pulls them right into the scene as we all gather at Pride Rock to honor the future King of the Pride lands. Adults immediately become children and children gasp with wonder as giant puppets and beautifully costumed actors come from the audience and set the scene at Pride Rock. Gugwana Dlamini's first notes as Rafiki add to the magic, transporting us all back to our childhoods when we first saw that sunrise on our televisions. The audience cheered every time a new character made an entrance and native Memphian Jaylen Lyndon Hunter received an enormous Memphis welcome as he made his entrance as Young Simba.

I imagine it would be difficult, performing a musical based on a film that most people have seen and loved, but the actors truly make it their own while staying true to the story. There are several new songs in the musical from Tim Rice and Elton John, and Kayla Cyphers's "Shadowland" as well as Darian Sanders's "Endless Night" brought tears to my eyes. Other ensemble numbers such as "One By One" and "He Lives In You" strike the emotions as well as the senses. I personally love seeing all of the "animals" grouped together and their combined voices make the Orpheum stage shake as if a stampede has just occurred *wink wink*. "He Lives In You" was my personal favorite, both emotional and inspiring, and made me want to get up and join in Simba's newfound confidence and determination.

The entire show was incredible and my only complaint was the sound design. I was a bit disappointed when some of the actors held back on their "power notes" and the music became more overpowering than the emotion of the actors. Perhaps that came from where my seat was located near the stage, because I heard no such complaints while leaving the theatre.

Disney's The Lion King has been performed in nine different languages, including English, Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Spanish, Mandarin, and Portuguese and has played in 21 countries on every continent except for Antarctica. There are also six indigenous African languages sung and spoken throughout the show, including Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Congolese.

Disney's The Lion King plays at the Orpheum from now until November 28th, so run, gallop, slither, crawl, climb, or fly to get your tickets today!

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