Disney’s The Lion King, which saw its 1997 world premiere at the Orpheum Theatre, is back again, running Jan. 11th through Feb. 12th. This makes the fourth time around and you can bet nobody’s tired of seeing it.
Whether you’re aware, there happens to be a pretty fantastic cast recording available. This, after all, was the production that launched Heather Hedley to international fame. It starred Broadway veteran Samuel E. Wright (The Tap Dance Kid, Over Here!) and South African legend
Tsidii Le Loka, and introduced extraordinary vocalist Jason Raize. The music is amazing, courtesy of Elton John and Tim Rice with arranging and additional songs by Lebo M. Anyone who’s seen The Lion King will listen to this disc and get one of those faraway looks in their eye, the one you get when revisiting a special memory.
Samuel E. Wright, portraying Mufasa, has depthless range, rich texture and brings both to bear on “They Live in You.” There’s a majesty about it, subtle and profound, that undeniably compels. Tsidii Le Loka (Rafiki) is perfect, singing “Circle of Life,” mining the melody for nuance almost beyond reckoning. Jason Raize is the adult Simba and delivers a turn that truly stuns with “Endless Night”—nothing short of heartrending. Heather Hedley (Nalla) executes the quintessential showstopper, “Shadowland.” Sheer, earthen grace. Haunting.
“Grasslands Chant” performed by the ensemble and “The Lioness Hunt” by Lebo M and the ensemble, are cultural godsends. Written by Lebo M, sung in Zulu, it is absolutely magical to not understand a single word yet be mesmerized by the choral tapestry and polyrhythmic percussion.
For goofs, there’s a few of numbers you’ll get delightful kick out of. Too bad “Chow Down” didn’t make it into the movie. It’s a hoot, showcasing Tracy Nicole Chapman to fine effect as one of the brain-dead hyena trio. Youngsters Scott Irby-Ranniar and Kajuana Shuford as young Simba and young Nalla provide wonderful bright spots. Scott Irby-Ranniar joins Wright and Geoff Hoyle (Zazu) for the sprited “The Morning Report.” Along with Shuford and the ensemble, he strikes a sparkling note on “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.” And, of course, that well-known lighthearted anthem “Hakuna Matata,” for which Irby-Ranniar is joined by Max Casella (Timon) and Tom Alan Robbins (Pumbaa).
Disney’s The Lion King Original Broadway Cast Recording is a fine listening experience.
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