BWW Review: THE LION KING National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
Based on the 1994 Disney animated film of the same name, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion who is supposed to succeed his father Mufasa, as King of Pride Rock. But when Simba's Uncle Scar kills Mufasa, Simba runs away from home after being tricked into thinking that he was responsible. As he comes of age, Simba learns some valuable perspective to go back and take his rightful place as King.
After having a successful out-of-town tryout in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Broadway show debuted in New York City on November 13th, 1997. It went on to win 6 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, countless productions running around the world, and currently ranks as the third longest-running Broadway show in history as well as the highest grossing entertainment entity of all time, having grossed more than $1,000,000,000.
It's right from the opening number led by Mukelisiwe Goba who brings perfection to the smart and wise baboon Rafiki with an entire African safari coming onto the stage right out of the audience for The Circle of Life, you know you're in for something that is beyond special. Director Julie Taymor and her creative team have figured it all out from top-to-bottom.
I can't just review each of the design elements individually, because they all blend so seamlessly well together. Taymor also designed the costumes as well as the masks and puppets with Michael Curry. Rather than creating mascot designs of the characters from the cartoon, they rethink them visually creating something in awe to behold. Add to those the beautiful lighting designed by Donald Holder and the eye-popping sets designed by Richard Hudson, you've got yourselves The Lion King!
The production also has a real African flair to it not only in terms of the design, but also all the African-American performers who make up most of the cast along. The musical score containing songs by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Hans Zimmer, and Julie Taymor is also very rich brought to life by some incredible orchestrations put together by Robert Elhai, David Metzger, and Bruce Fowler.
Book Writers Roger Allers & Irene Mecchi have done a brilliant job in adapting a 90 minute animated screenplay into a 150 minute stage musical. Throughout the show, we see the main character Simba go from an anxious little lion cub in Act I (played by the very talented Tre Jones at the performance I saw) to a very mature lion who must take his responsibilities in Act II (played by the very strong Aaron Nelson).
The rest of the cast deserves their own shoutouts! Gerald Ramsey commands the stage as Simba's father, Mufasa; Patrick R. Brown gives a tour de force performance as my all time favorite Disney villain, Scar; a wonderful comedic turn by Drew Hirshfield who puppeteers the tucan, Zazu (he even has a little moment at the top of Act II which you need to see for yourselves); Nia Holloway gives a very brave performance as Simba's childhood friend Nala (along with the very talented Mikari Tarpley who plays her Young Nala in Act I); and Nick Cordileone along with Ben Lipitz makeup the perfect comic duo as Timon & Pumbaa.
I could literally go on forever talking about The Lion King because it really is one of the great wonders of the world that deserves to be seen live and in person! This national touring production is currently playing at Durham Performing Arts Center through March 20th
For more information regarding the tour, please visit: http://www.lionking.com/tour/durham-nc