Disney’s The Lion King musical has electrified audiences for almost 17 years. The Lion King is an adaptation of the 1994 film of the same name, and is still roaring after all these years. Disney is well known for creating magical experiences for those young and old, The Lion King currently showing at The Kennedy Center for Preforming Arts is no different.
Currently billed as “The World’s #1 Musical,” the expectations are high, but from the opening to close; this production leaves little doubt that this is a spectacle that cannot be seen anywhere else. As the curtain opens we are greeted with the, now famed, musical number “Circle of Life.” Here we see Rafiki (Tshidi Manye) the mandril calling a procession of African animals to Pride Rock, the reputed throne of our lion king Mustafa (L. Steven Taylor). This is an experience that no words can accurately depict. Tears were brought to my eyes as I saw the beautifully decorated actors transformed to jungle animals proceed by. I cannot imagine a person that will not be awed within the first few moments of this production; the opening number is worth the ticket alone.
The costumes and puppetry were expertly designed by Director Julie Taymor, along with Michael Curry. It may seem difficult to transform elegant actors and dancers into ferocious wild animals, but Taymor and Curry do so with ease. From the jaw dropping giraffes with the actors thrust high in the air to the elegantly adorned lionesses. This display of artistry is theatrical brilliance at its best, thrusting the art form into the new millennia.
While the costuming and puppetry are exquisite, it is the actors within that truly bring this show to life. L. Steven Taylor gives a standout performance as Mustafa. He is regal perfection as the king of the Pridelands. His rendition of, “They Live in You” is stunning. By his side is the adorable Zazu (Andrew Gorell). Gorell is amusing as the obliging sidekick.
Also not to be missed is the aforementioned Tshidi Manye playing the charming mandril monkey Rafiki. She is a pleasure to see on stage, the audience was wrapped around her finger as she bounds about the stage with comedic distinction. She will tickle you when she comes on talking in African tribal language, her facial expressions are priceless.
Not to be outdone, are the loveable Timon and Pumbaa, played by Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz respectively. They will leave you in stitches with their colorful rendition of “Hakuna Matata.”
Scar, played by Patrick R. Brown, was excellent, but I was disappointed by his telling of the song, “Be Prepared.” I was expecting more power from such a larger than life character. Joining the wicked Scar in his evil plot to take the thrown are the villainous hyenas Shenzi (Rashada Dawan), Banzai (Keith Bennett), and Ed (Robbie Swift). The trio is enjoyable with their slap stick comedic style.
Also a bit disappointing was Jelani Remy, playing the older Simba, his energy was mostly excellent, but at times his singing seemed to be lacking “oomph,” especially in the song “Endless Night.” His counterpart, older Nala (Nia Holloway) was beautiful; she gave me goose bumps with her performance in the song “Shadowland.” The pair played off each other well; you wish nothing but the best for the amiable couple.
I have to say the darlings of the evening were young Simba (Jordan A. Hall) and young Nala (Nya Cymone Carter). The pair lit up the stage. Their performance of “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” was a ton of fun!
From musicians to designers to actors; theater is a venue where all art forms converge. Disney’s The Lion King is the quintessential example of theater at its best. This production is not only a fantastic introduction to theater for children, but it will engage the child that lives in all of us.
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.