You must trust me on this. You will NEVER experience the opening number of a Broadway show quite like this one. From the moment the colorful character of “Rafiki” appears stage right, bellowing the now familiar “Igonyana” which heralds the birth of the heir to “the King” the importance and significant tone of this show is gloriously established. These “people” (talk about personification!) sure know how to make an entrance LOOK BEHIND YOU and DOWN BOTH AISLES and watch the magnificent procession of puppetry/animals, this “Circle of Life” unfold in an explosion of character and creativity while accompanied by a moving musical score. Seeing is believing. Settle down after this spectacle – it gets even BETTER. And indeed, the magic that is Broadway is defined throughout “The Lion King.” This show is the gold standard. An immediate hit when it opened some 18+ years ago, it continues to sell out and dazzle its audience.
But it is in the manner of presentation that makes “Lion King” such a seminal show. The multi-faceted director/designer, Julie Taymor, has fashioned a show like no other, thru the creative use of puppets, and spot on costuming. The animal personas on stage come in every shape and size, and her singular vision, creates an animal world – appropriately set and titled “Pride Rock” – which provides a shiny perspective on our human world, and how to live in it. Yet the puppets are operated every which way by a human (in some cases, several humans) while acting, singing and dancing. Human and puppet are each other and each seems to take on the others characteristics. You have to see this for yourself, the imagination behind this production is jaw dropping and ultimately inspiring.
The music by the legendary Elton John and lyrics by his partner, Tim Rice, is far more mature on stage, and happily, in my opinion, adopts a more enhanced resonance and elevated tone then the familiar film score. The great film composer, Hans Zimmer, I suspect made some substantial contributions to elevate the direction of this score – from pop tunes to mature and moving arias. Yet it is the African rhythms, especially effective in “They Live in You” and later in the 2nd Act with “He Lives in You” that take this musical to the stratosphere. So gorgeous. Kudos especially to the percussionists in both numbers, under the musical baton of Karl Jurman. Both numbers are magnificent in tone and visual presentation. I came home and immediately “you tubed” both numbers, they kept resonating with me. I love when that happens! The rhythm is “gonna get you.”
I maintain that “The Lion King” is the best show on Broadway, and I have seen both “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon” so my praise has a great basis for comparison.
The characters are so well drawn, the themes and message so profound in the most entertaining and moving way possible, while family friendly and universal in theme. I know “The Lion King” is still selling out, quite a testament to the strength of this show. And yet there are no big names to draw in the crowds – that speaks volumes. Don’t miss this show, it surely will make your world a better place.
By: Joanne Theodorou