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.

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