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Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Lion King - Broadway Style


I had my second opportunity to see the Broadway touring company production of The Lion King today. It's one my favorite plays and I have to say that the second time was just as good as the first!

If you haven't seen this play I urge you to try if it comes to a theater near you. It truly is an amazing thing to see and I don't think you could be disappointed.

This touring company had some extraordinary talent.

The first standout was Scar, played by Timothy Carter. He really had the right tone and inflection to his voice. The sarcasm and humor were well played and the emotions came across loud and clear. I think the first production I saw had a more movement oriented Scar, but this one had the voice!

The next standout was a pleasure to see and hear. Musafa was played by Dionne Randolph. You may have seen Dionne at Walt Disney World as he played Kiume at Animal Kingdom's Festival of the Lion King. He was also a featured vocalist on the Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade soundtrack, and was a principal singer for Norwegian Cruise Lines. His voice is truly regal and magnificent! His rendition of They Live In You to me was one of the best.

The other vocalist that struck a chord in me was Nala. Dan'Yelle Williamson played this part beautifully. She has a feminine yet powerful presence and I got goosebumps when she sang Shadowland. Outstanding performance.

The rest of the cast was wonderful as well, but those were the standouts to me. I wish I could say that Rafiki was a vocal standout this time, but her voice was just a little to tinny sounding to me. As an actress she was fabulous, but her Circle of Life was not even close to my favorite rendition.

Now, if you've never seen this show it's hard to describe the beauty of the costumes and the sets. When the show starts it brings tears to my eyes as I just know I'm going to experience a truly special show.

The magic starts with animals coming down the aisles to take their places on the stage. These animals include elephants, birds, hippos and more. The stage is filled with giraffes, antelope, cheetah and so many more. This introduction to the costumes sets the stage and shows such attention to detail it's hard to figure out what to look at and where.

The lions wear costumes that include masks on their heads. The lioness's and adult Simba have masks that sit on top of the head and are stationary - there is only one point in the play that these masks do something special and I won't spoil the beauty of the moment by telling you what that is.
Scar and Mufasa have masks that are above their heads and these masks move - they lower, raise and move to help convey the emotions of the moment - hunting, fighting, frightening, etc. These masks are unique and add quite a lot to the overall presence of the characters.

Zazu is a puppet - similar to the Finding Nemo the Musical puppets at Animal Kingdom. He has an actor that holds him and works the puppet while talking/singing. The only thing I'd like to see different with Zazu is to make his colors brighter to make him stand out a little more. His colors are pretty muted. He of course has a lot of one liners and humorous moments.

Timon is also a puppet - a standing puppet. The actor is dressed all in green and Timon's feet are on the actors feet, the body and arms are puppet and then Timon's tail is in the back of the actor. he is very expressive and the actor does some great things with the puppet that you're sure to enjoy.

Pumbaa is a huge puppet. The actor is in the middle and Pumbaa's head is huge with a giant tongue that can be wiggled. Then the back in looks like of like a skeleton structure with hanging legs and is smaller but still in proportion with the large head. the actor wears Pumbaa's ears on his shoulders. This is so strange to explain, but so effective when you see it in person.

The Hyenas are so clever. Ed - the stupid one - has this giant hanging floppy tongue and screwy looking face, Banzai and Shenzi are more normal looking in the face. The faces are large and are where the actor's stomach is - they use one hand/arm to control the face. The neck with mane comes from their shoulders over the actor's head to attach to the puppet faces. Then they have front legs/paws that they wear on their arms. They are incredible designs and the way they can make themselves look like animals is pretty amazing.

The rest of the animals are just as impressive. Giraffes on stilts, antelope on heads and arms and carts, birds on strings, and so many more. There are even acts where the ensemble portray grass and plants. Truly amazing to see.

The story follows the movie pretty closely. There are a few extra songs thrown in and they fit well and enhance the story rather than detracting from it. It's truly a story that can make you laugh, cry, feel anger and love. For me this is the mark of a good play - one that evokes emotion.

This is a Disney show through and through. The set design, costumes, music, lighting and everything you see is truly spectacular and you can see the passion that was put in to the choreography and script.

Again, please don't hesitate to go see this if you get a chance. If you like Broadway plays, Disney, the movie or good music you won't be disappointed.

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