The Lion King at the Orpheum Theatre

Gerald Ramsey as "Mufasa" in The Lion King North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Gerald Ramsey as “Mufasa” in The Lion King North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Lion King is back, and packing ‘em in already for an extended run in Minneapolis. If you’ve never seen it, you should. It may be the most beautiful show visually that you’ll ever experience.

Dazzling, lush and fascinating, this is how spectacle should work: as integral to the story as the music or dialog. Giraffes, stride across the stage, elephants lumber down the aisle, birds soar over our heads, gazelles leap, and hyenas skitter. Each one is its own wonder of puppetry and costuming genius.

With a winning story threaded with perfectly matched musical themes by South African songwriters and adapted for the show, we are transported to the wilds of the African savanna, where Mufasa rules as king of the beasts. Except for one bad guy, his jealous brother, Scar, this benevolent lion-ruler is the undisputed head of the pride. But his pride and joy is his cub Simba, who’s adventurous spirit gets him into trouble, endears the little charmer to his audience—and incites the plot.

Honestly, you could put this story with slight adjustments in another environment with different costumes and you have any one of a number of Disney shows, but a good coming of age story doesn’t gets old, right? Especially when it’s wrapped up in such a remarkable package.

Five songs written by the iconic team of Elton John and Tim Rice remain in the score from the animated movie. Kids will be singing along to “Hacuna Matata” and you’ll probably be humming “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” in the car on the way home. But really, it’s all about the drums that flank the proscenium, the large, rich chorus of stellar singers, the timing of the crescendos and diminuendos with inspiring lighting and scenery shifts.

I was so taken with the African songs, sung with abandon by Buyi Zama as Rafiki, a character that functions both as narrator and a kind of collective conscience, providing plenty of humor and heart along the way, too. Aaron Nelson as the grown Simba and Nia Holloway as his lioness Nala are a powerful pair, and their young counterparts, played by BJ Covington and Savanna Fleisher, are an equally engaging twosome.

Gerald Ramsey as the King “Mufasa” is regal indeed; his wicked brother “Scar” is played with scrumptious neurosis by Patrick R. Brown.

There’s more than a little fame (and notoriety) attached to this show. It catapulted director/costume designer/puppet designer Julie Taymor into the Broadway stratosphere, where she dwelt until “Spider Man,” which she directed for a time, spun out of control financially and closed early in 2014. There’s no reason to question her creative vision and talent. The Lion King won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, starting its run in the fall of 1997, but it actually debuted in Minneapolis in July of that year – just the environment attractive to producers wanting to try out Broadway-bound shows.

The show runs through August 7. As thrilling as it is for young patrons, keep in mind that run time is two hours and 30 minutes. Afternoon naps may be required so they don’t miss a thing.

1 comment for “The Lion King at the Orpheum Theatre

  1. Steven LaVigne
    July 13, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    I saw this 19 years ago and am going to see it again, because Julie Taymor’s artistry has no match. I saw her magnificent version of The Magic Flute at the Met some years ago, and it was every bit as spectacular as this. I agree about the spectacle here. It’s as good as it gets on Broadway, because in spite of the tire space vehicle (Cats), the falling Chandelier (Phantom), the Helicopter (Miss Saigon), the floating house (Sunset Blvd.) or the pile of spinning garbage (Les Miz), spectacle doesn’t work on Broadway. At least not when the Metropolitan Opera is playing. If you want awesome scenery, see either the Zefferelli Turandot or La Boheme; the Taymor Magic Flute; the Mingella Madama Butterfly, John Dexter’s Dialogues des Carmelites or the most recent productions of A Masked Ball or Il Trittico.

    Still, The Lion King is a marvelous achievement that should be seen at least once! You can’t get tickets for it in NYC, so be thankful it’s touring and even though the best seats are picked over, it’s still worth the price of admission, if for no reason other than the opening Circle of Life, the Elephant’s Graveyard scene and the grasslands sequence.

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