It means no worries. And it is true that your worries are washed away when the curtain lifts and Rafiki, the sagacious baboon, stands alone on a barren stage belting out the opening of Elton John and Time Rice’s, “Circle Of Life”. Quickly thereafter the stage is flooded with an African safari as gazelles, birds and zebras surround Pride Rock. Before you know it, you are completely submerged in the savannah while elephants surprise the audience, trundling up the aisles and onto the stage. The opening scene of The Lion King has to be the most profound, groundbreaking opening sequence I have ever witnessed in a musical.
I still remember my first visit to The Queen’s Theatre in London, England. It was my 8th birthday surprise: Tickets to The Phantom of the Opera with seats in the orchestra! Attending The Lion King at the NAC in Ottawa, I thought, “What could possibly be more stunning, more thrilling than sitting underneath the candelabra as it swings down, barely missing our heads and lands on the stage in the opening scene of The Phantom.” But The Lion King stage production dazzled, as I relived the awe and excitement of my first musical production experience.
It’s nothing new, in a review of The Lion King, to rave about the costume design. I have long heard that the costumes are fabulous, extraordinary, exquisite. It is true, they are unlike anything I have ever seen in a live performance. Despite Broadway Across Canada working as a tour group, the costumes were not compromised at all.
The vocals, too, were astounding. Even young Simba performed with great confidence. There were, however, a few actors who sparkled a little brighter last night, who nailed their roles and made me feel like voice overs from the actual Disney movie were being played throughout the theatre. First and foremost, J. Anthony Crane was an incredibly evil, remarkably vile, astutely british Scar. He nailed it. I have never loved a baddie more than I loved him. His stage presence sky rocketed as he worked the tarnished lions head (atop of his own) to be eerily life-like, growling at Mufasa: “Perhaps you shouldn’t turn your back on me”.
Another critically acclaimed performance was delivered by Mark David Kaplan as he mastered his puppet Zazu. Kaplan’s chemistry with his puppet is unlike any master puppeteer, blowing the likes of Jeff Dunham out of the water. I was forced to remind myself that this bird was not flying solo and that, yes, indeed, there was a human coordinating his every movement just a step behind the puppet. Speaking of puppeteering, another outstanding performance was delivered by Nick Cordeleone as Timon.
The mook of a meerkat was perfectly exuded by Coreleone’s every nuance as he worked the Disney replica puppet of Timon. One question . . . Why was Cordeleone painted from head to toe in green, looking more like the Green Giant than a discrete puppeteer? Mystery to me.
Finally, one performance that united the plot and guided the audience from beginning to end was the talented, humourous Buyi Zama (Rafiki). Buyi Zama’s stage aura, vocals and wit made for a moving performance, particularly in the Reflection Scene. I deeply appreciated the incorporation of a number from Disney’s The Lion King 2, “He Lives in You”, which Zama sung with heartfelt conviction. I get chills thinking about this particular scene where the image of Mufasa is cast behind a sheer curtain as the voice over encourages Simba to take his place as The King of Pride Rock. Meanwhile Zama belts out inspirational lyrics, “He lives in you/ He lives in me/ He watches over everything we see/ Into the water/ Into the truth/ In your reflection, he lives in you.”
A truly thrilling performance, suitable for any child, teen or adult yearning to feel like a part of the circle of life.