Most musicals are not known as visual feasts. It’s not cliché to describe Lion King in those terms. But it is so much more including an aw-inspiring beauty of movement. The production combines story, song and inventive staging into something that lifts the spirits and renews our faith that theater for kids can captivate adults as well.
In 1996, Disney announced it was making a Broadway musical of their popular 1994 hit The Lion King. Eyes rolled with memories of Disney on Ice productions and the fear of goofy skating lions, but the show that opened in Minneapolis in July of 1997 and then moved to Broadway that fall challenged how movies are adapted for stage. And 21 years later, as it plays in Kansas City it’s still mind-blowing.
The plot of The Lion King is familiar to all who have been around the kids with the DVD playing in the background. How many times have we watched it? However, to attend the reconfigured Broadway production of The Lion King is a saturation of adult senses.
Through puppetry and masks, Director and Costume Designer Julie Taymor created animals found in the savannah. The actors’ operating the working parts of the animals becomes one with their “costume”. Nick Cordileone playing Timon, a meerkat, quickly vanishes. The costumes and images illustrate imagination and ingenuity. I will never see grass the same. Taymor and the creative team had the task of transforming an animated movie classic into a theater production and emphatically succeeded.
In 1998, The Lion King won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design, Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical. The music and lyrics are by Elton John and Tim Rice. The musical features the songs “The Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” –each having becoming pop culture icons.
Auditioning for The Lion King is, perhaps, the most unique in theater. The actors needed additional skills to make the animals come alive in addition to singing and dancing. The touring cast includes Kansas City native Ben Jeffrey as the warthog Pumbaa. Jeffrey has played Pumbaa on Broadway for 8 years and his experience and talent are evident in the touring production, keeping it fresh and lively.
But the animals! The giraffes, the fish, the lionesses, the meerkat, the gazelles, the crocodile, hyenas, fireflies, elephant, warthog, zebras … Oh my! You will see the animals in your dreams! My daughters, who saw it in Kansas City when they were very young, still describe it as one of the most amazing musicals they have ever enjoyed.
The plot’s values of family, being true to self, encouraging the potential of others, and redemption make The Lion King a great family outing. A ticket is a great gift for graduation and even an early Father’s Day except: spoiler alert: the dad dies.
Families will be able to enjoy the KC production as The Lion King is presented by Broadway Across America at the Music Hall in Kansas City. The Tony Award-winning Disney musical will close on May 27, 2018