It has been more than six years since "The Lion King" roared onto Broadway, settled in and swept up a slew of awards, including six Tonys. Now a touring company has finally made its way to San Francisco, where it's likely to enjoy an extended run. And that's not just because of the hype that precedes it. This is a genuine hit, a theatrical spectacle sure to please young and old alike.
Much of the credit goes to the brilliant Julie Taymor, who not only directed this stage version of the Disney animated film, but also designed the costumes as well as the masks and puppets (with Michael Curry). Richard Hudson's scenic design, Donald Holder's lighting design and Steve C. Kennedy's sound design all add to the sensory experience. Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice (with additional lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Taymor, and Hans Zimmer), musical direction by Rick Snyder and energetic, varied choreography by Garth Fagan also help to propel the book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.
Although the story itself is straightforward -- a princely lion cub must leave his home, grows up and returns to claim his right to the throne from his evil uncle -- it's presented so beautifully, so dynamically that the story is almost incidental. The huge cast is multi-talented, energetic and appealing. Chief among them are Rufus Bonds Jr. as Mufasa, the cub's father and king of the lions; Alexander V. Bass (alternating with Zyed Kane) as young Simba, the cub; Derek Hasenstab as Zazu, a parrot-jester; Derek Smith as Scar, the usurping uncle; and Adia Ginneh as Nala, Simba's betrothed. The only drawback is that some of lines and lyrics are lost because of poor diction or too-loud sound.
The real star of the show, though, is the costumes and staging. Animals lumber, flitter and gallop across the stage, but they're actually actors wearing and manipulating costumes that allow the audience to see how they work. There are giraffes, an elephant, gazelles, birds, hyenas and of course lions and many others native to Africa. It's sheer magic, totally enthralling.
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