Review: THE LION KING at the Eccles Theater is a Feast for the Senses

THE LION KING plays the Eccles Theater for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 23, 2022.

By: Oct. 01, 2022
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Review: THE LION KING at the Eccles Theater is a Feast for the Senses

The national tour of THE LION KING at the Eccles Theater is a spectacle like no other--a feast for the senses with eye-popping visuals and immersive music. It thrills with its groundbreaking application of masks and cultural puppetry techniques, along with its ravishing use of light, shadow, and color. Its drumbeat is the heartbeat of the African savannah.

THE LION KING (music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice; additional music and lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer; book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi) is based on the hit Disney animated film and will soon celebrate 25 years on Broadway. In addition to the songs and most memorable pieces of background score from the movie, the show also features new music, all arranged with authentic African chanting at the forefront. Highlights include the powerful "Endless Night," "Shadowland," and "They Live In You/He Lives in You."

The story is of a young lion cub named Simba, who learns about the circle of life from his father, Mufasa, king of the Pridelands. However, Simba has become a thorn in the side of his uncle, Scar, who is scheming to ascend the throne himself.

Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa and Jaylen Lyndon Hunter (double cast with Jordan Pendleton) are a moving father-son pairing. Darian Sanders as Simba and Khalifa White as Nala bring boundless energy, and Gugwana Dlamani as Rafiki and Spencer Plachy as Scar command the stage.

Nick LaMedica as Zazu, Tony Freeman as Timon, John E. Brady as Pumbaa, Martina Sykes as Shenzi, Forest VanDyke as Banzai, and Robbie Swift as Ed all share crisp comic timing, enjoyably bringing the animated sidekicks to life.

The animalistic performative nature of the actors' movement is enthralling, but sometimes this particular cast allows it to overshadow the human emotion the characters are expressing.

That said, the impressive ensemble's commitment and talent is on display at every moment from the opening note to the last and is inspiring.

More than individual performances or specific aspects of the music or script, this show is about the visuals, which tie together the at-times seemingly disparate components of the show (including the broad comedy and more adult dramatic elements) to form a cohesive whole that does not disappoint.

Director Julie Taymor is rightly celebrated for the lavish look, abstract staging, and immersion in African culture. Many different theatrical techniques from around the world are used with great success to convey the narrative.

Enough cannot be said about the unique, mesmerizing experience that unfolds due to the scenic design by Richard Hudson, costume design by Julie Taymor, lighting design by Donald Holder, mask and puppet design by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry, hair and makeup design by Michael Ward, and choreography by Garth Fagan.

And at the Eccles, the show literally extends into the audience, breathtakingly utilizing the venue's expanse of stars embedded in the ceiling and filling the side boxes with ethnic percussion.

THE LION KING is more than just a musical. It is an experience that is not to be missed and unlikely to ever be forgotten.

THE LION KING plays the Eccles Theater for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 23, 2022. For tickets, call ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS (2787) or visit www.artsaltlake.org.

Photo Credit: The Lion King.




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