Dallas — It might be pointless to review Disney’s stage transposition of the 1994 animated masterpiece, The Lion King, since it has been 20 years since it opened and the tour has been here many times. Praise for the glory of Julie Taymor’s production, is near-universal; with minor criticisms.
Dallas Summer Musicals has it back at the Music Hall at Fair Park and The Lion King has lost none of its overwhelming impact. Having never seen it before, I was ripe for impressing and have to admit that I was amazed and overwhelmed by this stunning marriage of music and stagecraft.
The musical was transformed into a spectacular Broadway production, opening in 1997. The music is by Elton John with lyrics by Tim Rice, and a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Among its many Tony awards, Taymor become the first woman to win Best Director of a Musical. Never one to miss an opportunity to milk a hit, Disney will release a new version of the film in 2019.
The plot, taken from Hamlet, is simple. Our reluctant hero is the lion cub Simba, who is the prince of the pride. In the first half, he is a young cub, played by three different child actors on a rotating basis. In the second half, he is a teen played by Jared Nixon. His slimy and evil uncle, Scar, played by Mark Campbell, wants the throne for himself so he sets it up so that Simba thinks that he was responsible for the death of his father, the King, as played by Gerald Ramsey. He flees and spends his growing up years as an outcast. Of course, when the time comes to return and defeat Scar, he is ready to be King.
The percussive, African aspects of Elton John’s score are terrific, so much so that you don’t mind the maudlin pop songs. All of the singing in this tour is excellent, although it is over-amplified.
But what makes this show are the visuals. Taymor’s breathtaking, life-sized puppets, coupled with the Garth Fagan’s choreography, successfully bring the animals in the animated film to vibrant life on the stage. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, a cheetah and flying birds are gorgeously rendered. In the major roles, masks, make-up and costumes create the allusion of the savannah creatures. The puppets for the story’s comic reliefs, Pumbaa and Timon, performed in bunraku style, are a delight.
It has to be seen to really comprehend the miracle that Taymor pulls in The Lion King. Worth seeing again, no matter how often you’ve seen it.