"The Lion King" is a roaring triumph on many levels of
entertainment. Little wonder that it's ensconced at the Center
through late April, an unprecedented long engagement.
There are two levels to this production: the story and the
spectacle. The story, quite faithful to the Disney animated movie of
a decade ago, could pretty much stand on its own, but surrounded by
all the glorious costumes and technical effects, it is not so much a
show as an experience.
Musician Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice created this show, but
it's the brilliant imagination of director Julie Taymor that propels
it to new creative heights.
Taymor also designed the costumes, many of which border on the
incredible, that transport her audiences into a spectacular world of
fantasy. Simply put, it's a jungle in there.
Save for the main leonine characters, the beasts of "The Lion
King" are amazingly lifelike puppets, controlled by human actors
behind them, who most often vanish from the viewer's consciousness as
their characters speak for them.
Taymor designed the animals' masks as well, along with technician
As the show opens, we encounter the jungle beasts -- many at close
range if you're occupying an aisle seat -- as they charge through the
theater and onto the stage. Apart from the lions, we get giraffes,
hyenas, gazelles, even a lumbering elephant.
As for the story, familiar to most kids of kindergarten age and
up, Taymor's actors are a special breed indeed, playing out the
Disney scenario with verve and gusto.
It's a classic tale of betrayal and revenge, sort of "Hamlet" in
the jungle, as a lion cub whose father, the pride of his pride, is
murdered by his jealous brother and assumes the throne. Then the cub
grows up to mount a vengeful return.
Most compelling among the cast is Larry Yando as the evil Scar.
Yando possesses a commanding voice that would make James Earl Jones
cringe, and his acting power is tremendous, a snarling menace who
also, strangely enough, has a reflective, "human" side to his
Brandon Louis plays the grown Simba -- who must be coaxed into his