“What do you want me to do; dress in drag and dance the Charleston?” (Nick Cordileone as Timon) Everything about The Lion King surprised me to the point of captivation. Puppets are a fear of mine that I have been coping with for quite some time. It is almost embarrassing the number of nightmares I have been eternally graced with. Fortunately, the puppets of the Pridelands are nothing like Goosebumps. They follow the life of Simba and his quest to find his inner connection with the world and his destiny to become leader of the kingdom his father left him. After adding in a scheming Uncle Scar(J. Anthony Crane) who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, a courageous childhood friend love interest, and an ensemble dressed in a variety of costumes to pertain animals and plants, you have a musical that could take anyone’s breath away.
I never guessed that the characters of the Lion King would exactly sound like their counter parts in the Disney movie. The only difference between the two was Rafiki (Buyi Zama), which was for the better. At first glance, one would not see a monkey, but rather, a shaman. Despite her serious role, she added an immeasurable amount of humor through swinging in on vines and dancing around shaking a woven red disk-like piece positioned to hang in front of her rump. Nala (Sydnee Winters) stole my heart with her powerful voice and her desperation to save the world she once loved in the number “Shadowland”. The entire cast had voices that were deep and passionate; creamy and satisfying. There was only one actor that bothered me with their singing and it was only because of one word, “can’t”, was pronounced so bright that my ears rang. This was Young Simba in the number “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”. He made up for this one bright vowel with his otherwise strong voice and focused acting skills.
Emotion was drawn out through the singing, but I was drawn in by technical elements. Africa was brought to life on stage amongst a group of Minne’snow’tans ready for something to warm them up. Through a stream of fog and spotlights, the audience was transitioned into a world full of color and beauty. The light played on the silhouettes of the animals in an array of ways. Only once did I notice a mysterious ticking noise that sounded like it was coming from one of the lights. Julie Taymor’s puppets were not puppets to me; they were an art form just waiting to be appreciated. The cheetah had wires connected from its head to the actor’s, allowing catlike movements. Mufasa (Dionne Randolph) and Scar had masks that covered their faces’ when they bent forward and quickly moved up to expose their faces’ when standing straight. Pumbaa (Adam Kozlowski) walked around in a huge skeleton of boar equipped with a tongue reaching out every once in a while. This whole production was almost like mystery, trying to search for what new surprising costume will pop up next.
The aesthetic value in this production is enough motivation to see it twice. Although the production is seemingly geared for younger audiences, the storyline runs much deeper than the actual Disney animation and sheds light on the African culture. The Lion King is an experience that you won’t want to miss, especially if you want to get over your fear of puppets.