Though Disney has become a force to be reckoned with in the world of Broadway, it’s scary to think that most of their productions can’t always compete with the more elaborate shows that are playing across the street. “The Lion King,” directed by Julie Taymor, is a rare exception to that rule. Not only is this a show that does the source material justice, it also gives the original movie a run for it’s money. The storyline is pretty much the same as in the movie, except here it is expanded upon in ways the movie probably couldn’t. Extra scenes with Mufasa and Simba expand on their relationship much better then in the movie. Not only that, but the new songs from Elton John and Tim Rice meld so perfectly in with the established ones that it’s amazing Disney hasn’t gone to the effort to integrate them into the existing film.
Well, okay, they did that. For one song. “The Morning Report,” which is easily the weakest of the new songs. But the songs aren’t the only thing that makes this stage adaptation work. No, if there is a standout it has to be the costumes and set decorations. Whenever I talk to someone about this show the first reason they will bring up for loving this show is Taymor’s carefully designed costumes. Though there is never the illusion that these are people playing animals, the design goes a long way to make it unique. Most of the costumes are head pieces, which bend in a way to make the actors look like leaping animals when they pose in certain ways. You can certainly say the silverware in “Beauty & The Beast” wasn’t nearly as inspired.
The acting is also worthy of praise, especially from Samuel E. Wright and John Vickery. As Mufasa Wright (in a Tony-nominated role) brings a quiet dignity to his character that is both compelling and emotional. You truly feel like he is the King of Pride Rock, and that makes his inevitable death all the more powerful when it happens. Likewise Vickery brings a menace to Scar that was absent even in the movie. Ironically, he also makes the characters goofier then in the movie, and it’s to his credit this doesn’t diminish the quality of the villain. “The Lion King” won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and one for Taymor for Best Director (the first time a female won this award).
The show continues to play to this day and has become a favorite Off Broadway show. It’s one of those rare shows that people can enjoy whether they like Broadway or not. If you only see five Broadway shows in your life make this one of them. But don’t worry too much about making a trip out-of-town; chances are if you’re in a city that has some sort of decently sized stage you’ll get a production of it eventually.
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