The Lion King is a spectacular feast for the eyes and ears. Based off the beloved Disney movie of the same name, it follows the brave cub Simba from birth to adulthood, as he learns the true meaning of strength and responsibility. Along the way, we meet characters such as the beautiful Nala, zany Zazu, duo extraordinaire Timon and Pumba, the majestic Mufasa and the slickly evil Scar. Those are only a few in a cadre of colorful characters. (I just noticed that I did a lot of alliteration in those two sentences. Whoa!) It’s a story as (ahem) old as time, but it as exuberant and entertaining as anything I’ve seen in a very long time.
Broadway Across America brought a powerhouse of performers in for last night’s show. Every cast member was fully committed to their character, whether that be Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as Rafiki, who opened the show with a from-the-gut note that brought everyone to attention; or Tryphena Wade as Sarabi or Rashada Dawan, Keith Bennet, and Robbie Swift as the three hyenas Shezi, Banzei and Ed, who stole every scene they were in. Patrick R. Brown as Scar, the most heinous of villains, was superb. He had the best entrances in the show and some of the best lines too. “A monkey’s uncle.” “Oh naughty boy.” “Long live the king.” I know, I know. Reading the lines don’t do them justice. With Mr. Brown, it was all in the delivery, and what a delivery it was. His villain was a devil, and it was delicious!!! (There I go with the alliteration again!)
But the show really went to the kids for this one. Nya Cymone Carter as Young Nala was the cutest thing around, with an awesome hairdo and amazing costume and a spunky attitude that had everyone cheering for her. (Literally.) And Nathaniel Logan McIntyre as Young Simba was truly sublime, showcasing a performance to keep in memory for a long time. I had the sense I was watching a star being born on that Benedum stage. He is charismatic, natural, showed a range of emotion…and is 9 years old. There was no fear or stage fright from him, nor from Miss Carter, as they performed in front of a packed house.
And Mufasa, as played by L. Steven Taylor, the character in the movie who always brought me to tears the most (who didn’t cry during the stampede!) brought me to tears again last night. The scene where he’s looking at the stars with Young Simba was the most touching in the show, and the scene when he reappears in the sky with a now older Simba, was one of the best special effects in the show…in any show. And as Mr. Taylor’s voice boomed out over the audience, telling us to “remember who you are”, I got absolute chills.
But let’s get to the most important part of the show already! The half-naked men dancing to a tribal beat! Okay, fine. Maybe not the most important part of the show but a good moment, nonetheless. Which brings me to the supporting players of this gorgeous moving portrait. There are too many to list by name, but every single person added something wonderful to the show. The people who were doing the stilt work for the giraffes and the guys as the leopards and the people as zebras and elephants and rhinos….they were magnificent and made the entire audience gasp with pure delight every time they came on stage, especially during the big opening number Circle of Life. Talk about a visual feast.
There’s a reason the Lion King is the world’s #1 musical. It has everything you could ever want in not only a good theater production (great lighting, great costumes, wonderful orchestra accompaniement) but it also has everything you could want in a good story. There’s jealousy, subterfuge, redemption and, the best part in any story, love. It’s a mighty beast of a show, and I can still hear the roar.