Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Lion King (The SOB Revisit)

The Lion King (The SOB Revisit) - Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN

***1/2 (out of ****)

A not so funny thing happened on the way to Broadway’s 10th anniversary gala celebration for Disney's The Lion King. It didn’t happen due to the stagehands strike.

In fact, over the past week, the only places in the United States to catch the anniversary engagement and spirit of this long running hit have been in Honolulu and Minneapolis.

Since Hawaii is just a little too far out of reach for me, I took in the touring production playing Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre -- the very same venue that hosted the world premiere for The Lion King’s 1997 Broadway tryout. With the Minnesota tour stop timed to dovetail with the 10th anniversary hubbub on the Great White Way, Twin Cities audiences are the first to experience The Lion King tour for the third time.

Since its Broadway opening on November 13, 1997, it’s estimated that some 45 million people around the globe have experienced the magic of The Lion King. Overall, the show has grossed over $3 billion worldwide -- certainly more than any film can boast.

On the Great White Way, it has been among the top five selling shows during each of the past ten years, first at the New Amsterdam Theatre and now since June of last year at the Minskoff. In addition to selling out Broadway and the two North American touring productions, The Lion King is currently wowing audiences in London’s West End, Hamburg (where the German language version is called Der König der Löwen), Paris (which opened just last month as Le Roi Lion), Tokyo and even Johannesburg, South Africa where it received an enthusiastic homecoming celebration of sorts when it opened there this past June.

So, ten years after debuting on Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre stage, how does The Lion King hold up? Extremely well.

To say the stars aligned for Disney on this magical spectacle would be a gross understatement when you behold each of the gorgeous design elements -- Richard Hudson’s glorious sets, Julie Taymor’s breathtakingly inspired animal costumes that are topped to perfection with masks she designed with Michael Curry, Donald Holder’s lighting and Steve Canyon Kennedy’s sound for the road (Tony Meola holds the honors for the Broadway stage). It remains an incredibly jawdropping harmonic convergence of the first order. In fact, the initial soaring ten minutes continue to be some of the most spellbinding live theatre moments for the sights and senses I've ever experienced.

Then when you layer on Garth Fagan’s mesmerizing myriad choreographic stylings that are as individual as each audience member, along with Taymor’s truly inventive and downright courageous choices as director, you wind up with one exhilarating production.

The fact that the touring production holds up nearly as wonderfully and solidly as the Broadway original is a testament to Taymor and company’s genius and vision. They have constructed live theatre for the ages and all ages.

However, and this may sound like I’m quibbling, but had I never previously seen The Lion King -- and I have seen it twice on Broadway -- I may not have paid as much attention to some of the weaker spots in Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi’s book, most notably in the first act, which doesn’t grab and enthrall quite the way it did when I first saw the show.

Perhaps it may have more to do with the young actor portraying Young Simba during my performance. He didn’t seem to be quite as in sync as he could have been. In fact, it wasn’t until Andre Jackson appeared as the older Simba that the story of the formerly lost lion cub turned king really took off. While a veteran of The Lion King, Jackson just recently assumed the mantle of the role and offers a commanding presence.

In this touring production, there were many other stellar performances, including those by Timothy Carter as a deliciously evil Scar (with his menacing snears, this Shakespearean actor, could very well be a natural someday as Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter), Phindile Mkhize as an appropriately rambunctious Rafiki (haling from South Africa herself, Mkhize captivates throughout, including when speaking a native dialect), Erica Ash as a radiant Nala and the hilarious Mark Cameron Pow as Zazu, who with skillful comic timing manages to get some of the best lines, including a local joke about the curtains coming from Target.

What amazed me most about seeing the touring company of The Lion King was how true the staging was to the Broadway original. It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by the sheer artistry of this production, and while the strike continues on the Great White Way, this could easily stand in for anyone determined someway, somehow to see the 1998 Tony-winning Best Musical.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Flashback: Best of 2000-01 (May 23, 2006)

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