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"Scott Irby-Ranniar is a vigorous young Simba and Jason Raize a stalwart grown-up Simba."
--Riverside Press-Enterprise review of The Lion King

 



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<< Charleston Post and Courier review of The Lion King

The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Human Touch Elevates 'Lion King' on Stage
by T.E. Foreman
March 29, 1998




Can the Disney people really have made a big stage musical out of their animated film "The Lion King"?

Yes, they have, at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and a remarkable musical it is.

It is a wonderfully colorful spectacle with some of the most imaginative staging you are ever likely to see.

It follows the story line of the movie, but director Julie Taymor, who is also costume designer and mask and puppet co-creator, has given it a dimension the movie does not have.

It was Taymor's inspiration to identify the principal characters simply with lion head masks, worn above their heads. Rather than clothe them in animal-like costumes, she has dressed them as African tribesmen and women, some with Masai tribal decorations on their bodies.

The result is to get away from the ridiculous anthropomorphism of the animals in the film, which bore not even a passing resemblance to real lions, or other animals. In the stage version it is possible to see them as human beings, possibly of an African tribe who wear lion head masks above their heads as some sort of symbol.

This puts the story of a king being killed by his brother, and of the king's son having then to avenge his father, more in human terms. (And say, does anyone notice a resemblance between this story and one from an earlier play?)

About the spectacle: This is not, as with so many recent musicals, a case of huge set pieces rising and lowering or gliding on and off. True, there are some jets of steam that shoot off here and there on the stage at times, and the cliff from which Mufasa, the king, shows off his young son rises and lowers. But most of the spectacle is in the the costumes, the puppet animals and the people disguised as real animals, as well as in smaller set pieces that are brought on and off - trees, squares of pampas grass and the like.

Oh yes, there are people dressed as real animals. Two giraffes are particularly remarkable. The puppet animals have people openly manipulating them. The herds of antelopes that gallop across the stage are attached to large wheels propelled by human hands, for instance.

The birds that fly over the stage, and over the audience, are on strings hung from tall poles that are swung around by men and women.

In the strong interracial cast, Samuel E. Wright is an impressive Mufasa and John Vickery is a sneeringly evil Scar, his brother. Scott Irby-Ranniar is a vigorous young Simba and Jason Raize a stalwart grown-up Simba. Heather Headley has one of the show's finest singing voices as Nala, Simba's grown-up girlfriend.

Tsidii Le Loka plays Rafiki, the baboon who is tribal wise man, with no mask or costume, basing her interpretation on a tribal shaman or medicine man. Geoff Hoyle carries the puppet Zasu, the secretary bird, with expert comic touch and Max Casella does an amazing job of handling and speaking for the puppet Timon, the wisecracking meerkat.

Tom Alan Robbins wears the puppet Pumbaa, the wart hog, as if he were riding in it. Stanley Wayne Mathis, Tracy Nicole Chapman and Kevin Cahoon as the villainous hyenas have vicious looking masks that make them truly frightening.

So if you're in New York, "The Lion King" is well worth seeing, and taking children to. It will probably run forever, so there's no hurry. To order tickets in advance, write to the New Amsterdam Theatre Box Office, 214 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10030, or call Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100. Prices range from $25 to $75.

When might it come to Southern California? I would guess it will be at least a year, maybe longer. But it's worth waiting for.

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