From the fabulous opening procession of all creatures great and small, the North American tour of Disney’s The Lion King is a magnificent piece of musical theater. Herds of antelopes leap, zebras gambol, a pride of lions oh-so-casually stalks them both, and gigantic giraffes saunter across the Durham Performing Arts Center stage, while an enormous elephant ambles down the aisle.
This jaw-dropping assortment of anthropomorphic African animals — ingeniously created with masks, costumes, and puppetry — fills the DPAC stage and aisles and even some balconies as various and sundry furred, feathered, and finned inhabitants of the lush savanna known as the Pridelands assemble for the “presentation ceremony” in which the regal title character, Mufasa (Dionne Randolph), and his radiant queen, Sarabi (Tryphena Wade), beam with parental pride as the chronicler of the Pridelands, the wise mandrill shaman Rafiki (Ntomb’khona Diamini), raises their infant son Simba skyward for all to see the heir to King Mufasa’s throne.
The current touring version of Disney Theatrical Productions’ Tony Award®-winning 1997 Broadway musical, based on the Academy Award®-winning 1994 animated film, with splendid songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, such as Oscar winner “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and Oscar nominees “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata,” also stars J. Anthony Crane as Mufasa’s envious brother Scar, a Machiavellian manipulator who would literally do anything — even form a secret alliance with the hated hyenas of the Outlands — to prevent his rambunctious nephew Young Simba (Kolton Stewart) from inheriting the throne.
Dionne Randolph as the heroic Mufasa and Anthony Crane as the treacherous Scar face off frequently, and keep the plot boiling with their sibling rivalry. Kolton Stewart and Madai Monica Williams are cute as Young Simba (which means “lion” in Swahili) and his tomboyish childhood sweetheart Young Nala (which means “gift” in Swahili).
Ntomb’khona Diamini, subbing for Brenda Mhlongo on Thursday night, was delightful as the feisty and irrepressible Rafiki; and Tony Freeman was hilarious as Mufasa’s officious British-accented majordomo Zazu. Nick Cordileone was a delight as the excitable meerkat Timon, and Ben Lipitz was a scream as the flatulent warthog Pumbaa (which means “simpleton” in Swahili).
Adam Jacobs and Ta’Rea Campbell added crowd-pleasing performances as the grownup versions of Simba and Nala; and Omari Tau as Banzai, Monica L. Patton as Shenzi and Ben Roseberry as Ed were hilarious as three sinister but stupid hyena allies of the turncoat Scar.
High-octane accompaniment by conductor Rick Snyder and The Lion King orchestra and vivacious musical staging by Broadway director Julie Taymor and choreographer Garth Fagan also added pizzazz to the proceedings. But it is scenic designer Richard Hudson’s eye-catching sets for the Pridelands and the Outlands, especially the towering recreations of the Elephant’s Graveyard and Pride Rock, the dazzling costumes created by Julie Taymor, and the expressive masks crafted by Taymor and Michael Curry that make The Lion King a must-see musical and virtually guarantee sold-out houses for its four-week run in the Bully City. Don’t miss it.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 8th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/10935782/article–The-Lion-King–a-feast-of-design–dance–music?instance=main_article and Jan. 2nd and Dec. 30th previews, both by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/10850878/article-Not-your-typical-puppets?instance=main_article and http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/10825476/article-Scar?instance=main_article, respectively (Note: You must register first to read this article); Jan. 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/01/08/906579/the-lion-king-is-theater-at-its.html and Jan. 4th preview by Katelyn Ferral: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/01/04/897514/lion-king-roars-into-dpac-for.html; Jan. 7th Raleigh.BroadwayWorld.com review by Shane Hudson: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/Disneys_The_Lion_King_Theatrical_Perfection_20010101#ixzz1AZ8QXI88; and Jan. 7th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts & Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/01/the-lion-king-is-ferocious-fun/. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 4th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/01/disneys-the-lion-king-will-roar-at-dpac/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents DISNEY’S THE LION KING at 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 8, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11-13 and 18-20, 8 p.m. Jan. 14 and 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 15 and 22, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16 and 23, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, 8 p.m. Jan. 28, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 29, 1 p.m. Jan. 30, at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $25-$100 , except $22 Student Rush Tickets sold at DPAC Ticket Center to students with ID.
DPAC Box Office: 919/680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=54.
Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000, or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/975016.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=22.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://disney.go.com/theatre/thelionking/tour/#/video/lk-sneakpeek/.
STUDY GUIDE: http://media.disneyonbroadway.com/pdf/TheLionKingStudyGuide.pdf.
EDUCATIONAL VIDEOS: http://disney.go.com/theatre/thelionking/tour/#/video/lk-edu-00/.
SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=21.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will sign-language-interpret the 2 p.m. Jan. 15th performance, and audio describe 1 p.m. Jan. 26th performance.
The Film: http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/the-lion-king-special-edition.html#4447 (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_king (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110357/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Musical: http://disney.go.com/theatre/TheLionKing/ (official web page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King_(musical) (Wikipedia),
The Broadway Show: http://disney.go.com/theatre/thelionking/broadway/ (official web page) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=5421 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Tour: http://disney.go.com/theatre/thelionking/tour/ (official web page).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.