BWW Review: THE LION KING Opens New North American Tour at The Landmark Theatre
The excitement in the air in Syracuse, New York has been going on for quite awhile since it was announced that the North American tour of The Lion King would be coming to the Landmark Theatre in late October. The time has finally arrived and the crowds are packed into the theatre, ecstatic to once again see the beloved hit musical's return.
The Lion King has been running on Broadway for twenty years now. An immediate hit, the original production earned many Tony Award nominations in 1998 and winning Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design for a Musical, Best Costume Design for a Musical, and Best Lighting Design of a Musical.
The musical itself is based on the 1994 Disney animated film of the same name with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice along with additional music and lyrics by Lebo M. Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer. The musical features a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.
The Lion King tells the story of a young lion cub named Simba (Ramon Reed played young Simba at the performance I attended). Born to Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) and Sarabi (Kimber Sprawl), Simba is destined to take over Pride Rock and continue "the circle of life." Unfortunately, there is the jealousy, greed, and selfishness that can exist in all families. Scar (Mark Campbell), Simba's Uncle, is looking for a way to be King and rule over Pride Rock instead of Simba.
Scar sees an opportunity when he realizes Simba is a curious cub. He sets a trap and using his hyena followers to attack Simba. Luckily, Mufasa comes to Simba and his friend Nala's rescue at the Elephant graveyard. Scar knows that Mufasa must die first to secure his place on Pride Rock so he uses Simba to lure Mufasa into a stampede and dramatically kills his brother. Scar makes Simba believe he is the one responsible for his father's death so an emotional Simba runs away. His journey leads him to new friends and a new life. He finds out who he truly is and returns to the place that he truly belongs.
The musical, uniquely and creatively directed by Julie Taymor, uses intricate puppets, physical skilled actors, along with powerful music to bring the story of the young cub to life. The talented actors control and move in sync with the puppets while singing and performing the intricate choreography by Garth Fagan.
The Lion King is an elaborate spectacle in which the actors portray twenty-five species of animals, birds, fish, and insects with the help of the various costumes, set pieces, puppets, and creative lighting design by Donald Holder. The artistic and technical elements of the show take center stage in this particular musical. The current and newly opened tour has been redesigned to play at smaller locations that wouldn't otherwise been able to host a show with such elaborate technical needs.
However, you wouldn't know that the show is altered because it still lives up to the original production that garnered so many awards for its technical elements. All the dramatic entrances and deaths, elaborate costumes by Julie Taymor, unique set design by Richard Hudson, and powerful music are still there. On the night I attended there were some sound issues that will most likely be worked on though.
The crowd went wild for "Circle of Life" as the actors in costume/puppets entered down the aisles, raising their strong and dramatic voices backed by the touring orchestra directed by Jamie Schmidt.
Buyi Zama as Rafiki opens the show beautifully with her perfect comedic timing, impressive vocals, and dramatic flair. She is a true standout performer. Gerald Ramsey, as Mufasa, is powerful and authoritative and sings a memorable rendition of "They Live in You." Greg Jackson, as Zazu, skillfully maneuvers the puppet. Mark Campbell's line delivery is spot on as Scar, stealing the spotlight at every opportunity, especially in his number "Be Prepared." The hyenas - Shenzi (Martina Sykes), Banzai (Keith Bennett), and Ed (Robbie Swift)- have perfect chemistry when they perform "Chow Down" and "Madness of King Scar." Nick Cordileone, as Timon, and Ben Lipitz, as Pumbaa, play the comedic duo with perfect comedic timing and deliver a memorable performance of the hit song "Hakuna Matata." Gerald Caesar, as adult Simba, shows off his vocals in the beautiful number "Endless Night;" his energy and facial expressions capture Simba's growth perfectly. Nia Halloway, as adult Nala, is confident and strong, fully capturing Nala's loyalty, beauty, and strength in "Shadowland."
The ensemble in this show sing, dance, act, and are basically part of the set as they transform themselves into various plants and animals. The memorable ensemble musical numbers include "Circle of Life," "Nants' Ingonyama," "They Live in You," "Be Prepared," "One by One," "Shadowland," and the classic hit "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." All the actors, set pieces, puppets, projections, and lighting effortlessly transform the stage into Africa with all of the animals and the favorite familiar Disney characters.
The tour of The Lion King is the perfect treat for families, those that love the Disney film, and for the crowd that loves the big and elaborate musicals. If you are lucky enough to have the tour stop near you it will be a real treat.
Running time: Approximately two and half hours with one twenty-minute intermission.
The North American tour of The Lion King runs through November 12, 2017 at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York as part of the 2017-2018 Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse. For tickets and information on the tour of The Lion King click here. For tickets and information on The Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse click here.
Pictured: Buyi Zama as "Rafiki" in THE LION KING North American Tour. ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus.