BWW Review: THE LION KING National Tour at Paramount has Drawn the Circle of Life Too Many Times
Dear Readers, I'm going to start out by coming clean to a fact that may cause a few gasps. I've never liked "The Lion King". Unlike much of the rest of America I didn't think the movie was that great and I seriously don't care for the stage version. The story is just a watered-down version of "Hamlet", the music is written by committee with many different composers contributing to the score making for an inconsistent show, and it's all flash and spectacle trying to overshadow songs that don't move anything along by throwing everything they can on stage to distract. It's just overrated. "But," many have retorted, "the costumes are so great." To which I always reply, "Yes, and you see many of them in the first five minutes of the show in the costume parade disguised as an opening number, "Circle of Life". And then after you've seen that, then what? The show has blown their big moment at the beginning of the show and it's all downhill from there. Plus, this is a musical. I come for more than costumes." But we're not here for me to eviscerate "The Lion King", which I could do all day. We know I don't care for it but that aside, how was the current production at the Paramount? Let's discuss that.
First, the story. As I said, this Disney movie put on stage is basically "Hamlet". Lion King Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) and his wife Sarabi (Chante Carmel) have just had a cub Simba. And all seems well but Mufasa's evil brother Scar (Spencer Plachy) has his own plans. He devises an "accident" for Mufasa and Simba and takes over the Pridelands. But Simba doesn't die but rather flees and grows up beyond the borders of the Pridelands where he meets his two friends Timon and Pumbaa (Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz) and once an adult, Simba (Jared Dixon) realizes he must go home and take back the Pridelands from his Uncle.
The cast is decent but at times felt like they were just going through the motions. There's no heart in the show, or danger, or stakes, just bright colors flying about. Basically, the theatrical equivalent of jingling keys at the audience in the hopes to entertain them. The voices are there but the orchestrations and sound mix is so high that you can't hear much in the way of words. I guess they don't care much for the songs either. The costumes are there but largely look, uncomfortable. And the choreography is there but with little spark or verve and felt more a vehicle to get to the next bad Disney joke. And I must mention that battle at the end between the Lionesses and the Hyenas. I've seen more convincing and energetic dance fighting in a High School production of "West Side Story". I think they were all thinking the same thing I was. "Is this over yet?"
There are a few moments that made me not want to flee the theater. The Act Two opener "One by One" was lovely but had nothing to do with the story. As were many of the more African dance numbers where they could ditch the cumbersome costumes and show off some skills. Nice moves but wrong show. But a show I'd prefer to see. And Dixon's "Endless Night" solo was quite nice but that had more to do with the performer than the song.
As it is on Broadway, the show is not for a snob like me. It's for the kids, or the folks with a soft spot for the movie. But even if you're just pandering to those two groups, you still owe them the best banal bit of fluff that you can give them, and this cast didn't bring it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the National Tour of "The Lion King" at the Paramount a lackluster MEH-. Even in a dud, you still need to bring it. The audience deserves that much.
"The Lion King" performs at the Paramount through January 6th. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.STGPresents.org.