The pride of the Arts Center stage

March 18, 2005

Tom Titus

Rarely, if ever, has a Broadway musical arrived at the Orange County

Performing Arts Center with such advance publicity and such eager

anticipation as "The Lion King." Not "Phantom of the Opera," not even

"Les Miserables" has generated this much interest.

Last weekend, local audiences finally found out what all the hype

and hyperbole was about, and it's safe to say they were not



"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

Michael Curry.

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

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