From the opening song to the last dying note, Africa comes alive on stage in Disney’s The Lion King. This musical has plenty of eye candy, toe-tapping tunes, and a wonderful story line. It is no wonder that it has won both Tony and Olivier awards in its short, but successful life.
The opening number of The Lion King is the same as the opening number of the movie from which the show is adapted. During the song “The Circle of Life,” the animals promenade through the audience onto the stage. Rafiki, a mandarin who in the stage version of the story is played by a woman, welcomes the new cub that was born to king Mufasa and his mate Sarabi. The animals must journey to Pride Rock, and they make this journey though the aisles of the theater, giving audiences a first-hand look at the stunning costumes and puppets that make people literally become the animal characters they are portraying.
The costumes are what make The Lion King so magical. Audience members quickly forget that they are watching human actors onstage, as the actors become one with the puppets they are handling. The giraffes, as an example, are actually actors on four stilts with towering heads. Main characters have mechanical headpieces that allow more animal-like movements while still allowing the actor to act. This is how Disney avoided creating a musical full of the park-inspired plush costumes. The look of each animal onstage is very African in design, adding to the authentic feel of the show. The battle scenes are “fought” through carefully choreographed dance, and the wildebeest stampede brings together so many aspects of theater that it must be seen to be understood.
The plot of The Lion King follows the plot of the original Disney movie almost perfectly. There are some additions, of course, in order to make the performance long enough to fit on a Broadway stage. Several new songs are added, as well as some new dialogues that help add more depth to the characters, especially the villain Scar.
The Lion King is Disney’s second attempt to turn a successful animated film into a Broadway production. Its predecessor, Beauty and the Beast, was highly successful, as it contained elements that appealed to adults and children alike. The Lion King has enjoyed similar success since its debut in 1997. It is currently traveling and enjoying ongoing productions in New York and London.
The set of The Lion King adds to its brilliance. Pride Rock is access through a spiraling staircase, and several trap doors allow the characters to appear exactly when needed. A special feature towards the back of the stage allows a portion of the set to tilt upward to add another measure of special effects to this musical.
Theatergoers who are thinking of skipping The Lion King, fearing that it is simply a dressed up version of the movie, are missing out. This magical musical with stunning sets, intricate characters, and amazing costumes is something that all theater lovers must see.