Recreating something so spectacular is a tall order. There’s always the worry that people will like the original better, or that they’ll disagree with what was cut and added. It’s difficult to follow such an acclaimed performance, trying to stay true to what people know, while still managing to make it fresh. We’ve all seen Disney’s The Lion King. A charming and touching animated movie about a lion that has lost his way, but somehow manages to find himself again. It’s a story of love, loss, and evil. I’d heard wonderful things about The Lion King Broadway Musical, and was looking forward to being whisked back to my childhood.
They hit it hard in the first seconds of the show. The opening notes of “The Circle of Life,” sung by Rafiki (voiced by Ntomb ‘Knona Dlamini), a giant elephant puppet making it’s way down the aisle just inches from our seats, and the vibrant colors and sounds of Africa set an incredible tone for the show. Immediately, I was in tears from the sheer beauty happening onstage. The lights and shadows were spectacular, doing their job to paint an exquisite picture of the African desert. The costumes and puppets made the animals so realistic; they had me convinced instantly.
The music was equally as thrilling, and I was delighted to be brought back to the songs of Disney that I grew up with. Though the songs have the same lyrics, and the same general tune, there was something distinctly new and original about each song. Adding the African drumming and music style really amplified the culture of the show. “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” was among my favorites. It’s one of the more carefree numbers of the show, and was sung incredibly by young Simba (Zavion J. Hill) and Nala (Kailah McFadden). Hill and McFadden are both just nine years old, and I was blown away by these young voices. They danced and rode giraffe puppets, while still managing to hold their own vocally. Here’s a short glimpse of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” from the London performance.
Also among the lighthearted musical numbers was “Hakuna Matata,” a definite crowd pleaser. Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Adam Kozlowski) were hilarious and brought much of the comedy aspect to the show. These grub eating animals had the children in the audience in stitches, and the parents reminiscing their childhoods. “Endless Night,” was also in my top performances. Sung by Simba (Jelani Remy), this performance brought tears to my eyes. It was done simply and beautifully, capturing a lovely self-reflection from a son without a father.
I can confidently say that myself, and the people around me were all swept to a place of wonder and magic. Whether laughing along with Timon and Pumbaa, or crying alongside the lions of Pride Rock, The Lion King Broadway Musical had me enthralled and connected with the beautiful work of art onstage. Though a tough challenge to top the movie, I believe the Broadway performance accomplished things impossible in animation, and it was truly a joy to witness.