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BWW Review: THE LION KING at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts

BWW Review: THE LION KING at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts
The cast of "The Lion King" (Joan Marcus)

Rooted in its history as an animated treasure since its release in 1994, "The Lion King" manages to transform into a visual masterpiece on the stage as well-and has maintained its rightful place in Broadway royalty for nearly 21 years.

For some, this domination in the box office could serve as a challenge to a show of lesser quality-creating an uphill battle of taking a beloved story that continues to roar with life in the minds of its audience and doing justice to the storyline on stage.

However, after attending the tour's most recent stop at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, I think the audible gasps from the audience (including my own) throughout "The Lion King", proved just how well Broadway's third longest-running show has done in keeping the classic alive on stages across the nation.

The powerful storyline of lion cub Simba's life as heir to his father, Mufasa, and the cruel plot of his uncle Scar to remove them from power surges on-stage. With help from the impeccable costume design and the masterful puppetry, it's so well crafted that you often find yourself pulled into the story (and at times, you truly are in the thick of it all), and entirely unaware of the professional actors bringing these characters to life.

With that said, simply due to the size of the production (there are over 200 puppets used throughout the show), at times it can become a bit of a sensory overload and leave you swiveling in your seat wondering where exactly your attention should be focused. One moment Rafiki (beautifully portrayed by Buyi Zama) is belting the iconic opening note from the stage, and the next there are dozens of animals surrounding the audience in their processional to Pride Rock in honor of Simba's birth. Time and time again there are moments throughout the show where more than a dozen animals grace the stage or even soar high above the crowd-often simultaneously. However, there is pure beauty in this utilization of the entire theater, and it's a directional choice that fully immerses the crowd in the experience. While it can seem jolting at first, the expansive opener is, without a doubt, one of the most elaborate entrances to any show that has ever graced a Broadway stage-and don't worry, the energy doesn't slow down from there.

This current tour also boasts a lion's share of talent (I had to), with Young Simba (alternating between Joziyah Jean-Felix and Ramon Reed) and Young Nala (alternating between Danielle W. Jalade and Gloria Manning) bringing their characters to life on stage with ease and grace well beyond their years. Each channels the playful innocence that lies at the heart of their character and owns the naivete of Nala and Simba in their early years.

Reed also provides a powerful performance that evokes great emotion surrounding the death of his father in the wildebeest stampede-a scene that is well crafted with stunning visual displays through the use of puppets, flight and upbeat choreography.

Scar (Mark Campbell) and his malicious gang of hyenas (portrayed by Martina Sykes, Keith Bennett, and Robbie Swift) do their part in terrifying the audience, making more than a few hairs stand up on the back of my own neck as they lurked in the Elephant Graveyard and plotted the demise of Mufasa (portrayed by Gerald Ramsey).

As we all know, countless scenes in Act One build upon one another to create the tension that lies at the heart of this epic battle for the throne, but what would "The Lion King" be without a little comic relief? The fun-loving duo of Timon and Pumbaa (portrayed by Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz, respectfully) help carry a large part of the comedy in Act Two as the caretakers and friends of the now adult Simba (played by the graceful and energetic Gerald Caesar) with their "Hakuna Matata" motto. Zazu, Mufasa's feathered aide who is portrayed by Greg Jackson, also has his own share of comical input throughout the show-though often through a more sarcastic and satirical lens in comparison to Timon and Pumbaa.

There is one stale comedic moment that occurs when Jackson's puppet is taken off-stage in the chaos of chasing Young Nala and Simba in Act One, leaving him standing alone in front of the audience without Zazu himself. This small act happens to shatter a bit of the fourth-wall and reminds you that there is in fact a human behind Mufasa's right-hand bird. This brief moment allows for a bit more comic relief from Jackson, but it doesn't quite bear the same impact as it does when he remains in full-control of his puppet. However, this very brief moment aside, the comedy is simply as wholesome and easygoing as the original screenplay. The story continues to ebb and flow with tension and comedy, creating a decent balance of conflict and resolution that doesn't tread into the tedious.

"The Lion King" is the perfect introduction to Broadway musicals for audience members of all ages, but still maintains the pure talent, ingenuity and sheer power that only the best of Broadway can produce and maintain. No matter how well you know the story or how many times you have seen "The Lion King" (either animated or brought to life on stage), it always has a way of transporting viewers back to a period in their life filled with the awe and wonder of childhood that they may have long forgotten-and it's a trip definitely worth taking.

'The Lion King'

  • What: Touring production of the Broadway musical

  • Length: 2:40, including intermission

  • Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

  • When: Through March 11

  • Cost: $35.25 and up

  • Call: 844-513-2014

  • Online: drphillipscenter.org



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From This Author McKenzie Lakey