Saturday, May 14, 2011


J. Anthony Crane as “Scar” and Dionne Randolph as “Mufasa”. ©Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.Photo

By James Karas

Would you see a musical based on a Walt Disney animated movie?

I would NOT and did not – until now.

I am referring to The Lion King, of course, the animated feature that was released in 1994 and won enough awards to fill some large bookshelves and has made enough money to buy several small countries. The movie spawned an entire industry what with spinoffs, sequels, games, a television series, merchandize and much more.

Three years after the release of the movie, a musical was spawned with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice (with additional music and lyrics by several others) and it hit Broadway in November 1997. It is still there and, it seems, in every major city in the English speaking world and elsewhere. It played at The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto from 1999 to 2004. That was hardly enough time for everybody to see it and it is back at the same theatre until the Second Coming or perhaps longer – well, OK this is a touring production and it is scheduled to close on June 12, 2011.

Why are people around the world flocking to see the show? I enjoyed it and decided to put together a few of the reasons for saying that.

Here they are, in no particular order, as they say:

1. It has a good story. The animals of the jungle act like people and we have the king of beasts who has a nasty brother who wants his job. A familiar story. The bad brother disposes of the king and sends the heir to the throne packing. The heir returns as a grown up and restores order. A happy tale.

2. It is a story about animals and here the doors open for the creation of masks, puppets and imaginative methods of presenting the animal kingdom on stage. The success of The Lion King in this department is simply extraordinary. The people on stilts that represent very credible giraffes, the lions, the hyenas and the other animals are brought to “life” with brilliant imagination, colour, humour and astonishing success.

3. There is wonderful humour coming from many characters and especially from Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa and the hyenas.

4. The show is simply spectacular in its staging, kaleidoscope of colours and pace. There is not a boring moment.

5. It is suitable for children and it will entertain, scare and delight them. Adults get to see a great show and give a great birthday or other occasion present.

6. The music and lyrics are excellent. The ensemble numbers are exciting and the solo numbers go from the romantic to the animated.

7. There are some scary sequences that will keep your brats glued to their seat and then have them jump up and down with joy during the rest of the show.

8. It is a huge show with animals coming down the aisles and filling the stage with dancers and singers.

9. It is not fattening (unless you go for the buttered popcorn).

10. I enjoyed it and that alone is good reason to see it unless you are so culturally inept, spiritually bankrupt and emotionally sterile, that you dare to disagree with my assessment.

Individuals who shone in the production were the bad lion Scar played with an English accent of sorts and panache by J. Anthony Crane. Mufasa, the lion king is sonorous and deeply humane as played by Dionne Randolph. Tony Freeman is the hornbill Zazu, Nick Cordileone is Timon and Ben Lipitz is Pumbaa, all played with impeccable comic verve.

There is a large number of ensemble singers and dancers that keep the whole thing moving.

Production credits are claimed by a creative team that can make up a small army in one of the countries that they can buy with the profits. Director Julie Taymor will probably end up as the president and hold several ministries. She contributed to the lyrics, designed the costumes and had a hand in designing the masks (with Michael Curry).

In the end, just look at reason Numero 10 and do not worry about any other details. The rest is “Hakuna Matata.”

The Lion King, music and lyrics by Elton John, Tim Rice and others, book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi continues until June 12, 2011 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

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