[REVIEW] The Lion King - The Musical

This past Tuesday saw the opening of Disney's The Lion King, the world's #1 musical, for its nearly one month long run at the OKC Civic Center presented by OKC Broadway.

If you've seen the 1994 film then you're going to be familiar with the story. Taking place on the plains of Africa, in a kingdom ruled by the lion king Mufasa and coveted by his younger brother Scar, a new lion cub, Simba, is born and sets in motion a tale of deceit, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption that echoes Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Being familiar with the movie doesn't mean that you'll be seeing the exact same story on the stage, however. There are new surprises, some additional scenes and dialogue, as well as all new musical numbers that serve to both set the atmosphere and advance the story.

Buyi Zama as "Rafiki" in THE LION KING North American Tour. ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

When you first arrive to the theatre, make sure that you show up with enough time to get your seat. There's a lengthy hold at the beginning of the show and if there's a number you absolutely don't want to miss, it's the opening number "The Circle of Life". I don't want to ruin anything, but suffice to say if you can manage to get tickets in the Orchestra area, you'll be dazzled. Bonus points for grabbing seats along the two inner aisles.

The Lion King is an absolute marvel on the stage. It's brilliance, outside of the performances and music, comes from it's use of puppets. Seeing them in action and how gracefully the ensemble performs their moves is worth the price of admission alone. The variety of animals and the clever way in which they're utilized is one of the highlights of The Lion King.

The costuming, of course, is great as well, especially the headdresses worn by Mufasa, Scar, Simba, Nala, and the Lionesses. While you understand that these are human actors portraying animals, you can kind of get lost in how well the actor and costume mesh together to give you a sense of being inside this animal kingdom.

Nia Holloway as "Nala" and "The Lionesses" in THE LION KING North American Tour. ©Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

The actors do an exceptional job of bringing these characters to life. Gerald Ramsey is powerful and commanding as Mufasa and his smooth baritone fits the character perfectly. Dashaun Young, who performed the role of the adult Simba for a time on Broadway is exceptional, toeing the line between wanting to hide from his former life on Pride Rock and finding his strength to return to face his uncle, Scar, and reclaim the throne.

Nia Holloway makes for a wonderful "Nala". You really feel her presence on the stage, especially in her hauntingly beautiful song "Shadowland" which is quite the showstopper near the beginning of Act 2. And one of the most important roles is that of "Rafiki". Played by South African Buyi Zama, her voice was honestly the strongest of the entire cast. She absolutely dominates in her role and is perfect when opening the show with "The Circle of Life", and it's always a delight when she's on stage whether it's acting or singing.

For me, Mark Campbell as "Scar" was a bit of a letdown. I prefer a much more vicious and threatening Scar and Mr. Campbell's performance came across as more cunning and sly. That's not to say that you won't enjoy his performance. You very well might. But for me, it just didn't hit the villainous marks that I really want to see from that character. Also, when speaking his lines his accent that's he's given the character isn't completely clear and can sound a bit mush mouth at times, plus I could tell he struggled to hit a few of his high notes. Still, though, I didn't hate the portrayal and I'm honestly being a bit nit-picky.

The other letdown for me were the actors playing young Simba and young Nala. They switch off with different actors each night, so I'm not sure which two I saw. They were fine in their roles and certainly had plenty of energy, but neither were overly great vocalists which was especially distracting in "I Just Can't Wait To Be King".

Dashaun Young as "Simba" in THE LION KING North American Tour. ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The other letdown for me was that this is not the original Broadway version. Well, sort of. It is indeed all the same costuming and set design and choreography but back in 2010 a decision was made by the creative team to trim some of the show to help with pacing and the overall length, which at the time was around 2 hours and 45 minutes including intermission. Because of these changes, those intimately familiar with the Original Broadway Cast Recording, like myself, will note that "The Morning Report" has been completely removed from the show. There is also a small cut to "Chow Down" and the classical breakdown which featured ballet dancers in "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" has been removed. Also, about half of "The Madness Of King Scar" (one of my favorite numbers) was removed as well, which, for me, made the whole number feel overly rushed. There are likely some small dialogue changes and other nips and tucks throughout the show but if so, I wasn't aware of them. In all, these changes only remove around 10 minutes of the show which leaves me scratching my head as to why the producers opted to remove them at all.

Now, all that being said does this mean that you shouldn't go see the show? Absolutely not! You very much should see this show as it's still one of the most spectacular Broadway shows on tour. As someone who has seen a lot of musicals, The Lion King, even with it's minor cuts, still stands as one of the best stage shows you will ever see. It's filled with heart and wonder and amazing performances and really is one of those shows you have to see, whether you're a fan of musicals or not.

Buyi Zama as "Rafiki" in THE LION KING North American Tour. ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tickets for The Lion King are available now but selling out fast. Make sure that you get yours by heading to the OKC Civic Center box office, by calling 405-297-2264, or online at www.okcciviccenter.com!

The Lion King runs in Oklahoma City through May 28th, 2017!

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