The musical stage adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King, now in its 18th year, is perhaps the most popular stage musical in the world. Since its Broadway premiere on November 13, 1997, 22 global productions have been seen by more than 80 million people bringing in over a billion dollars.
And the show just keeps on showing its pride. The new national tour of “The Lion King” that roared into the Cadillac Palace Theatre for Friday night’s opening did not disappoint.
From the get-go, the spectacle wowed the Chicago audience as it has been doing worldwide for nearly a generation. From the many children (recommended for ages 6 and up) in the audience who may have been experiencing theater for the first time to the veteran critics–all were enchanted–as the majesty of the jungle and life itself unfolded throughout the entire theater.
The production showcases 18-foot giraffes (skillfully inhabited and navigated by actors on stilts), an elephant so enormous that he could hardly fit down the aisle–antelopes; swirling birds; a panther; spectacular black and white zebras and a huge ensemble of actors. With over 200 amazing puppets, representing 25 different animals, the show is BIG in every way.
Julie Taymor’s genius still continues to captivate as the show’s director, costume designer and mask co-designer. When first imagined the team at Disney told her that there were no rules and encouraged her to think outside the box. The result the unique one-of-a-kind blend of puppetry and masks that populate the show.
The score features the music of Elton John and Tim Rice from The Lion King’s animated film along with three new songs by John and Rice plus additional musical arrangements by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer. The resulting sound is a fusion of Western popular music and the rhythms of Africa, from the Academy Award®-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to the haunting “Shadowland.”
The plot revolves around “The Circle of Life” starting with the Lion King of the Pridelands, Mufasa (tenderly played by Gerald Ramsey), and his queen Sarabi as they celebrate the birth of their son, Simba (the adorable Tre Jones). All the animals of the savanna rejoice Simba’s coming with the exception of Mufasa’s evil brother, Scar (captured magnificently by Patrick R. Brown) who now becomes second behind Simba to become king.
Along with his evil hyenas, Scar gets rid of Mufasa. Simba, now a young boy is fooled into believing he caused his father’s death–so runs away. With Simba presumed dead, Scar becomes king turning the Pridelands into a wasteland.
While far away from the Pridelands, little Simba has been befriended by Timon (the likable Nick Cordileone) the meerkat and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz) the warthog where they will be with him as he grows up.
Eventually the grown-up Simba becomes restless and is convinced he must return home. There he finds his childhood friend, Nala (Nia Holloway) who has grown into a beautiful lioness and sparks fly between them. Simba rids the Pridelands of Scar, and reclaims his rightful place on the throne–to the joy of all the animals as the circle of life continues.
When: Through January 17, 2016
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Tickets: $35 – $180, (800) 775-2000 or online at Broadway in Chicago
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
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