By CB Adams
One of the key achievements of successful fast food chains is that no matter where you travel, an entrée tastes consistently the same. Although it may seem unfair to compare the latest tour of Disney’s The Lion King to a hamburger, it’s actually both a compliment and a testament to the quality of this theatrical adaptation of one of the franchise’s most successful animated features.
There’s no question that The Lion King the musical is equally successful on its own terms. In fact, compared to most jukebox musicals, it’s practically Shakespeare. As the house dimmed at The Fox Theatre for The Lion King’s current run (through June 19), it was clear within minutes that the show has lost neither its luster nor its appeal. First there was the cry of Rafiki, the show’s guide played by Gugwana Dlamini. From the audience’s response, it was clear that many in the audience had seen the show before. Later, even the laugh by one of the hyenas received enthusiastic, anticipatory cheers.
As Pride Rock rotates into place on an African savanna and an ark-worth’s of animals strolled the aisles of the theater and ascended the stage as “The Circle of Life” began to play. All of this plus the creatively stunning African masking and puppetry that audiences have come to know, love and expect.
The opening is one of the best of any musical – ever – and thus expectations were high. This Lion King still delivered. Like that hamburger, the audience knew what it was going to get – and it got it from the opening to the curtain call.
For many, the family-friendly songs of the show are this Lion’s heart. The show’s aural world adds more depth to the experience, thanks to Steve Canyon Kennedy’s sound design and James Dodgson’s musical direction.
The quality of this musical extends beyond any one element like the music, however. One could make the case that the artful visual storytelling may be its most potent part. It’s possible to cover one’s ears and just “watch” this musical with its beautiful set (Richard Hudson), lighting (Donald Holder), choreography (Garth Fagan) and costumes/masks/puppets (original director Julie Taymor and Michael Curry) and still feel satisfied. There aren’t many musicals that deliver more punch per square inch, or per square pound, of stage – no small feat.
The Lion King’s cast includes approximately 50 members. There wasn’t a weak performance on opening night. Many were audience favorites, such as Jurgen Hooper as Zazu and Nick Cordileone as Timon. Also noteworthy was the nuanced performance of Diamond Essence White as Simba’s mother, Sarabi, and Kayla Cyphers as Nala.
Opening night was a bit like attending The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a sing-along screening of The Sound of Music. The audience included a plentiful number of children, many of whom sang along to the most well-known songs – along with their adult companions. It was often a participatory experience – one that can be highly recommended. You know what you’re going to get.
Performances of DISNEY’S THE LION KING at the Fabulous Fox run June 1 – June 19. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. Tickets on sale now at MetroTix.com or by calling 314-534-1111. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com
CB Adams is an award-winning fiction writer and photographer based in the Greater St. Louis area. A former music/arts editor and feature writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, his non-fiction has been published in local, regional and national publications. His literary short stories have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and his fine art photography has been exhibited in more than 40 galley shows nationwide. Adams is the recipient of the Missouri Arts Council’s highest writing awards: the Writers’ Biennial and Missouri Writing!. The Riverfront Times named him, “St. Louis’ Most Under-Appreciated Writer” in 1996.