Everything you’ve heard about it is true. Disney’s The Lion King is a spectacle that delivers big time.
This show is a feast for the senses. From its opening number as a menagerie of animals makes it way to the stage, to the clever ways in which it connects actor to character through puppets, masks, and costumes, The Lion King is about all about creating an experience. And based solely on the reaction from the audience at Friday night’s performance in Vancouver, the current touring production has achieved that goal.
While commenting on an audience’s reaction doesn’t usually form the basis for theatre criticism, especially given Vancouver’s reputation for easily giving up a standing ovation, from the gasps, comments and wide-eyed joy that was coming from the children and adults, there is little doubt as to the affect this musical extravaganza has on those that see it. From the middle aged women sitting next to us who were gasping in astonishment, to the young one on the other side who climbed onto her mother’s lap for a better vantage point, the pleasures of this show are readily apparent.
Of course, pulling off a show as grand as The Lion King relies heavily on an ensemble with the skills necessary to bring together all of its disparate parts. Fortunately that isn’t a problem for this current touring group, whose athleticism and musical talents are top notch. Portraying everything from the grasslands of the savannah to the creatures of the African plains, there is a graceful ballet quality to the performances thanks to Garth Fagan’s sometimes mesmerizing choreography.
Among the named characters, Tshidi Manye and Farah Lopez (who split the role of Rafiki in this particular show) make easy work of Lebo M’s hauntingly beautiful African songs as Rafiki. Mayne’s opening number, with the familiar refrains of “Nants ingonyama”, is as stirring as the visuals that accompany it.
Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz continue to bring the funny with their portrayals of Timon and Pumbaa, and were in good company with Drew Hirschfield’s mix of conscious and comedy as Zazu. Jelani Remy has one of the biggest and best voices of the night as the older Simba, and Patrick R. Brown brings a suitably droll humour to Scar that helps to soften the evil in his character for the younger set.
There were some issues with sound at times, especially in the numbers that featured Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, the three hyenas that made the lyrics all but impossible to understand, but that is a small price to pay for their wonderful physical portrayals.
But is spectacle enough?
When The Lion King first rolled into town five years ago the review headline at the time read “absolutely, go!” That overall sentiment (exclamation included) remains true. Even if we were to mention its well-worn story, that is at times as two-dimensional as the animated film on which it is based, it would still not dissuade audiences from shelling out hundreds of dollars for a night out. But in all honesty, despite some of its weaknesses in storytelling, The Lion King is one of those rare touring shows that actually justifies its ticket price.
The Lion King with book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, with additional music and lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Cancina, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer. Directed by Julie Taymor. Based on the Disney animated film The Lion King. A Disney Theatrical Productions presentation. Presented by Broadway Across Canada. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (650 Hamilton St, Vancouver) until July 12. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.