The Lion King stampedes into the majestic Pantages
Theatre with gorgeously surreal safari animals
this makeshift Serengeti. Puppeted, operated or
otherwise brought to life by live actors who are half
the animal themselves, the wild comes alive as a sort
of sculptured human art form - truly beautiful in
concept, design and execution. (I was impressed ..
and I've been on Safari in Africa).
Each animal has its own unique method of movement:
The lioness has two parallel wires attached to either
side of her head extending to each side of the
actor's head; mimicking looks to either side. Eerie
and elegant. At times, a bicycle built for gazelles
rolls across the stage as the graceful animals appear
to leap in tandem with watchlike precision over the
plains. The giraffes require four stilts, while
Rafiki (which means friend in Swahili) brings to life
a baboon simply with modest makeup and careful
movement by actress Fushia who also belts out some
fantastic Africanesque scat.
Speaking of music, LION KING is at its best when
the ensemble comes together with African rhythms and
choruses that reach to the turquoise-lit ceiling,
hypnotizing by way of repetitive utterances. Placed
on either side wall, two extravagant sets of
percussion instruments to accentuate the tunes.
Solo vocalizations, however, are mixed. Rafiki,
Mufasa, older Simba all entertain with sweet singing
voices; in fact older Nala sent this crowd into a
clapping frenzy. Unfortunately, these account for
only half of the solo songs, the other half are
surprisingly and disappointingly weak for a
production of this magnitude.
Similar hits and misses can be found in acting
prowesses. Timon's (Danny Rutigliano) absolutely
commands the stage with his humor, character voice
(reminiscent of Nathan Lane, only better), and
ability to manipulate his rodent with charm and
agility. He makes an excellent rat. Scar is strong,
and older Simba Charming; but Mufasa (despite his
awesome singing voice) struggles to exude strength
and younger Simba, sympathy. A few missed marks that
rob the production of first act drama.
It's difficult to imagine a reader of this review
who hasn't seen the animated feature film of the same
name. If you haven't - goodness, rent it - it's
fantastic, and not just for the kids - for you. That
said, I won't comment on the story, only that the
tale is strong.
Two thumbs way way up (or should I say hooves?)
for the art direction and set design. I've already
praised the costuming and puppetry, but the backdrops
with their paper-torn clouds, waving grass, and lush
green jungle amply invoke the rich skies and
landscape of the wild. Simply ominous, a scene where
Simba looks at his reflection in the pond and sees
the image of Mufasa. The little dots on jungle leaves
will bring rise to corresponding goose bumps all over
Cutting to the chase, LION KING the stage play,
strongly entertains with its majestic visuals,
ensemble music and dance, while sporting drama (at
least in this performance) better appreciated by a
(Incidentally, the cameoing (twice) infant lion
looks like a paper sculpture or wooden lion-doll.
Unimpressive. A human infant in typical Halloween cat
costume would have melted the audience, while an
actual live cub would have stolen our hearts.)
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