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Disney’s THE LION KING has returned to Orange County with performances until November 1st. This incredibly popular musical sensation has wowed audiences since its incarnation 18 years ago. Using one-of-a-kind puppetry, masterful out-of-this world costumes, with a creative scenic design like no other, and an already beloved story and song list has helped create a recipe for success! There’s a reason why THE LION KING is one of the most popular stage musicals in the world playing to an already impressive 80 million people in 22 productions globally.
As we all know, THE LION KING began as the 1994 Disney feature-length animated film during the second golden-era of Disney animation. It has been a benchmark for all Disney animated films ever since, and a film that any animated movie now seems to be compared to. It’s the coming of age story of a young lion cub Simba who must find peace with his past to rise as the King of the jungle.
Set in the African savanna with an all animal-based characters created a challenge for Disney to make a show like none other. I think we have all become familiar with the style of the show over the years and is something usually on the bucket list of most theater-goers. It’s a show I have wanted to see since basically the dawn of its creation and I have finally been so lucky to do so.
The show has won six 1998 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical. There’s no denying that show director Julie Taymor has created a magnificent production and she still plays an integral part in supervising new productions of the show around the world.
We all know the music, and THE LION KING basically stems everything directly from the movie with a near identical screenplay and the inclusion of all the popular Elton Jon and Time Rice music. There are three additional songs from John and Rice along with additional authentic South African flare from Lebo M as well as new musical material from Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and film score master Hans Zimmer.
With all the pooled talent and use of such popular music along with a vibrant large production and scenic design, it is no wonder why this musical has become such a success. The stage production still includes basically all of the films song list with the likes of goosebump-causing “Circle of Life”, a creative production of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, “Hakuna Matata”, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. Some additional songs are welcomed and incredible like Nala’s “Shadowland”, but others seem a bit odd or quite honestly pointless. I have just chosen to look past the hyenas songs, especially “Chow Down” that has more-than-usual 90’s feel to it with ridiculous guitar riffs that seem a tad too mid-90s iconic.
Regardless, THE LION KING still features all the songs we have loved for 20 years with a direction that is near identical to that of the movies. Hearing songs you have grown-up with or have seen your kids cherish for such a long time now performed live in such a beautiful stage production will surely leave you with chills. The players for Mufasa and both younger and older Simba were probably the most similar to their movie counter parts, but Rafiki played by Mukelisiwe Goba definitely stands out with her hilarious antics and fascinating native African tongue.
Also, the Timon and Pumba duo is just as you would expect, however most jokes fall from the same script of the film. I would love to see some more improvisation between the two, or perhaps different jokes than what everyone is already so familiar with. Then again, some of these classics lines could not be left behind. That being said, you will still have all the laughs and humor from these silly little sidekicks, but I do feel it could have been much more memorable. It’s silly for me to really even critique since, after all, this is show that has already proven itself and well-loved by millions.
It’s incredible to see everything come to life on stage with the shows spectacular staging. It’s definitely a bright lively show that will surely bring joy to all types of audience goers. Obviously, this is an ideal family show but also a perfect first true off-Broadway show younger children. However, be advised that it is a longer shower with moments that may be a little slow or hard to understand for the youngest of crowds.
THE LION KING is running until November 1st including 3 shows with Q and A sessions after the show! It’s a show that shouldn’t be missed if you are a fan in any way. I may have shared some items that may have been less than favorable, but the entirety of the show is wonderful and a good time at the theater.
For more information visit SCFTA.org