The Lion King

When The Lion King opened its first national tour in Denver in 2002 (to read previous review click here, then click the backward arrow on your browser to return), it was greeted with the same amazement and enthusiasm as it had generated on Broadway from the time it first opened there on November 13, 1997. That means when this run closes in Denver, the show will have been in production exactly nine years.

The Company performs He Lives In You.
The Company performs "He Lives In You"
Photo: Joan Marcus; ©Disney
This represents an entire generation of kids that have been brought up on Simba's coming of age and on the timeless African philosophy handed down to him from his father, Mufasa, the medicine woman Rafiki, and a host of other anthropomorphic characters from his 'hood.

Considering Disney's record of sanitization, trivialization, and commercialization since Walt's passing, this is an exemplary turn of events, because the African message conveyed in The Lion King is natural, honest, and positive:

"From the day we arrive on the planet
And, blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life."
(from "The Circle of Life," by Elton John and Tim Rice)

Kevin Gray as Scar
Kevin Gray as Scar
Photo: Joan Marcus; ©Disney
Given the number of international and national productions that have been mounted or are still up, it would be easy to quibble over comparisons between this Mufasa and that Simba, or this Rafiki and that Nala, etc., but such an approach misses the point of the overall effect, and the profound and consistently professional nature, of the show.

When Disney Theatricals stepped out of character and hired Julie Taymor, with her deep appreciation of world theatre, to adapt the original animation for the stage, they were correct in assuming that probably no one else could have pulled this off. Oh sure, the techniques she uses—masking, puppetry, and silhouette—have been around forever; but the genius of artistry is in the recombination of archetypes, and here Taymor's work still exceeds anything that's been attempted in this genre. In pushing the envelope, Taymor has freed art directors in ways beyond our ability to measure.

The opening scene The Circle of Life.
The opening scene, "The Circle of Life"
Photo: Joan Marcus; ©Disney
While the production's thrills remain for returning audiences, first-time attendees will gape slack-jawed at the opening congregation of species and the astounding craft work that their masks and mechanics represent, as well as the ingenious stampede, and South African composer Lebo M's soul-stirring native melodies.

It's also apparent that the minimum age for kids ought to be around 5 years, as the younger ones seem to be too restless, too scared, or too tired to weather the intense, two and one-half hour show.

There are still good tickets left—albeit mostly for Tuesday through Thursday shows—and the long run provides plenty of opportunities. Denver Center Attractions presentation of Disney's The Lion King runs through November 12th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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