So, if we told you that there was puppet show coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center, would you go to see it? No? What if we told you that many of the puppets are gigantic, such as the ones that our local favorite, Saxapahaw, NC-based Paperhand Puppet Intervention, creates for its annual outdoors summer puppet pagents? Still no?
What if we added that the actors and main character are reminiscent of the Broadway show Cats, except the cats in question are lions? Aren’t you a little intrigued?
What if we told you that Elton John wrote the musical score? Sound interesting now? This is no kiddie production! We are talking about Disney’s The Lion King, which roared into the Durham Performing Arts Center on Feb. 16th. In fact, even though there were a handful of kids in the audience on Press Night (Feb. 18th), most of the attendees were grownups, though perhaps this is because of the ticket price. But we are here to tell you, it is worth it! There are hardly words to describe this extravaganza! It’s an absolutely spectacular musical!
The tale is set in Africa, an Africa whose skies, plains, and rivers are teeming with life. From the very minute the story begins, the audience is immersed in the creatures, the songs, and the sights of Africa!
As the lights go down and the curtain goes up, elephants walk down the aisles, African birds twirl through the air, and herds of gazelle bound effortlessly across the stage. The room literally fills with animals, and then you suddenly realize how these incredible animals are teams of actors who have donned special half-machine, half-makeup costumes.
Some animals, such as the elephant, are made up of four actors, each operating a different leg. Some are single actors donning complicated animal attire.
For instance, the giraffes are actors who walk on stilts on both their hands and feet. The effect is miraculous, and the audience started spontaneously cheering with each passing creature. Kudos and more kudos to director and costume designer Julie Taymor for accomplishing such thrilling effects!
When the main characters take the stage, you realize that they have special costumes, too, as their characters must bridge the gap between animal and human to tell the tale. Their costumes change, depending on whether the actor is being more animal-like or more human.
The tale itself is a classic one, reminiscent of Hamlet. The beloved King of the Lions, Mufasa (played by Gerald Ramsey), has been blessed with a son, who is now the heir to the throne. This child, Simba (alternately portrayed by BJ Covington and Julian Rivera-Summerville as a cub and played by Aaron Nelson as a full-grown lion), will take over the Pridelands in his turn.
But Mufasa’s brother, Scar, is not happy about the new arrival; and he devises a plan to eliminate both the king and his son, thereby becoming king himself. Scar (an incredibly talented Patrick R. Brown) teams with the hyenas, creating an unholy alliance of sorts, by promising them that the female lions will feed them if they help him become king.
The three main hyenas, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed (played by Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Keith Robert Bennett, and Robbie Swift, respectively) do an incredible job of working their complicated costumes. They each operate four legs, a long neck, a puppet head, and haunches, all the while singing songs and dancing.
But wait, there’s more! The lighting (kudos to Donald Holder) is used masterfully, as it underscores the emotions in each scene; but it also makes broader strokes about the set, such as the giant sun that rises dramatically over the African plains, the twinkling stars in the sky, and the shimmering leaves that descend and rise over the actors’ heads. Who would have thought that shadow puppets could be used to help the audience feel the thunder of a bison stampede!?!
The sounds of Africa are captured too, with the group harmonies and joyful noise of Africa punctuating the production. Of course, Elton John co-wrote the dozen or so classic tunes that we all know and love, such as “Hakuna Matata” — which means “no worries” in Swahili — and “Circle of Life.”
From the Department of Picky-Picky: There were times when we couldn’t understand the lyrics to the songs, but we hardly cared. There are so many amazing effects in the show that it kept us enraptured. It is hard to name them all. The best thing to do is for everyone to run to DPAC and catch this amazing spectacle before the pride follows the herd for greener pastures!
The Lion King is running through March 20th at DPAC.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 19th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-beloved-lion-king-worth-seeing/article_d7032410-d755-11e5-94ff-c3e6c8a61f8e.html and Feb. 11th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/back-at-dpac-unc-grad-has-been-in–plus/article_44a2c0da-d115-11e5-ae29-c7f23e3510c6.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Feb. 19th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/the-lion-king-is-a-must-see/ and Feb. 10th preview by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/elon-grad-returns-to-durham-in-the-lion-king/. Feb. 16th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh video interview with head carpenter Billy Kimbley, conducted by Jeffrey Kare for BWW TV: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-THE-LION-KING-Loading-In-at-DPAC-20160216 and Feb. 8th video interview with actor Ben Lipitz, who plays Pumbaa, conducted by Jeffrey Kare for BWW TV: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Ben-Lipitz-of-THE-LION-KING-National-Tour-20160208; Feb. 12th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow preview by Melissa Howsam: http://artsnownc.com/2016/02/12/behind-the-strings-in-the-lion-king/; and Feb. 10th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-lion-king-choreographer-garth-fagan-on-the-raptures-and-challenges-of-crafting-a-hit-musical/Content?oid=4990861; and (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 16th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/02/disneys-the-lion-king-roars-into-durham-again-for-a-five-week-sit-down-at-dpac-starting-feb-16th/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents Disney’s THE LION KING at 8 p.m. Feb. 20, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-25, 8 p.m. Feb. 26, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 27, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m. March 1-4, 8 p.m. March 5, 2 and 8 p.m. March 6, 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 7, 7:30 p.m. March 8-10, 8 p.m. March 11, 2 and 8 p.m. March 12, 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 13, 7:30 p.m. March 15-17, 8 p.m. March 18, 2 and 8 p.m. March 19, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 20 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $33-$109. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/820969.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: http://www.DPACnc.com/events/detail/disneys-the-lion-king< and https://www.facebook.com/events/1518740868419764/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pgZtzDj_7o and http://littlstar.com/videos/3bbd406c (360° Experience of “Circle of Life”).
THE TOUR: http://www.lionking.com/tour/durham-nc and http://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/499333.
TOUR CAST: http://www.lionking.com/cast/north-american-tour.
CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.lionking.com/cast/creative-team.
STUDY GUIDE: http://media.disneyonbroadway.com/pdf/TheLionKingStudyGuide.pdf.
EDUCATIONAL VIDEOS (The Lion King Experience): http://www.lionkingexperience.com/.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.DPACnc.com/news/detail/casting-announced-for-disneys-the-lion-king-broadways-award-winning-best-musical.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.DPACnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24th, performance.
The Lion King (1994 animated musical film): http://movies.disney.com/the-lion-king (official web page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110357/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King (Wikipedia).
The Lion King (1997 Minneapolis, 1997 Broadway, and 1999 West End musical): http://www.lionking.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/5421 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://www.facebook.com/TheLionKingUSA/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/thelionking (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/DisneyOnBroadway (YouTube).
Elton John (music): http://www.eltonjohn.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=11938 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005056/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elton_John (Wikipedia).
Tim Rice (lyrics): http://www.timrice.co.uk/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/8890 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005358/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Rice (Wikipedia).
Roger Allers (book): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/8448 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0021249/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Allers (Wikipedia).
Irene Mecchi (book): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/6444 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0575293/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irene_Mecchi (Wikipedia).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.