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"Jason Raize's young-adult Simba is pumped with pride, passion and the hormones of a teen-age Broadway heartthrob."
--Columbus Dispatch review of The Lion King

 



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<< Riverside Press-Enterprise review of The Lion King

Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH)
Disney's 'Lion King' Appears
Destined to Rule on Broadway

by Michael Grossberg, Theater Critic
March 26, 1998




NEW YORK - Scratch Cats. From now on and conceivably forever, The Lion King is Broadway's feisty new feline king.

Disney's landmark musical is much more than a Cats for the multicultural next millennium. From director Julie Taymor's imaginative staging, breathtakingly beautiful puppetry and striking masks to the colorful costumes, sinuous choreography and expanded score, Disney's second musical tops Broadway's previous family favorites.

Taymor's enchanting environmental approach wraps the audience in the atmosphere and animals of Africa. Birds fly, gazelles dance, lions roar, antelopes leap, hyenas giggle, rhinoceroses charge and elephants lumber through the aisles. The giraffes are so realistic in spindly appearance and graceful movement that only on a second look does the audience recognize the men on stilts within the costume.

Undulating waves of green reeds prove to be a chorus line of well-choreographed dancers wearing landscape-headpieces.

Although the lion's share of the spectacle can be credited to Taymor, one shouldn't overlook the enhanced score or the remarkable performers.

Authentic African rhythms and catchy songs from Lebo M., Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Taymor and Hans Zimmer have been added to the five lilting Elton John-Tim Rice songs from the 1994 animated film. Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata frame the first act with a knockout opening and finale, while The Morning Report and I Just Can't Wait To Be King add adolescent energy.

Jason Raize's young-adult Simba is pumped with pride, passion and the hormones of a teen-age Broadway heartthrob. As Mufasa, Simba's father, Samuel Wright projects soulful dignity with a great voice.

As the clicking baboon-shaman, Tsidii Le Loka is mesmerizingly alien. Geoff Hoyle's Zazu is hilarious, while John Vickery's silky Scar is deliciously evil.

With baked-orange sunsets and panoramic landscapes, scenic designer Richard Hudson transcends the expected Disney cuteness - although children will love the familiar cartoonish antics of Max Casella's Timon and Tom Alan Robbins' Pumbaa.

From the costumes and choreography to its incredible range of wildlife brought to life onstage, Lion surpasses the elements of spectacle and whimsy that made Cats Broadway's longest-running show.

Haunting in the narrative punch of its Hamlet-like parable about a boy's coming of age into regal manhood after his father's death, Lion trumps Cats by marrying its spectacle to a compelling mythic story.

Breathtaking moments abound: The wildebeests stampede directly toward the audience, growing ever bigger; fish and eels swim through a river (via shadow-screens); the heat of an African drought evaporates a shrinking lake (actually, a silky cloth pulled through a hole); and the second act opens with multicolored birds (actually, convincing kites) flying above and through the theater.

While Disney's crudely literal stage version of Beauty and the Beast falls short of its animated-film source, this second stage adaptation of a Disney cartoon expands and deepens its source and finds its own stage legs, paws and claws.

With its occasional vaudeville touches - Timon and Pumbaa's acting is an act, and a few New York-conscious wisecracks refer to the Guggenheim Museum or Disney's other musical down the block - The Lion King nods to the Ziegfeld Follies history of Disney's beautifully restored New Amsterdam Theatre. The lavishly costumed processions up Pride Rock - which corkscrews to majestic height - evoke Ziegfeld women descending his circular staircases in feathered headdresses. Ziegfeld would have understood and admired The Lion King. Walt Disney, too.

By entrusting its most valuable animated-film property to one of Broadway's most brilliant up-and-coming directors, Disney has reaffirmed the power of youth and the magic of theater for years to come.

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