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vancouverplays review


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—Phindile Mkhize as Rafiki in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from the national tour of Disney's The Lion King. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice
Broadway Across Canada
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
July 13-Aug. 8

 This is Jerry's review of the touring production that played Vancouver in 2010.

It’s taken a long time for Disney’s The Lion King to find its way to Vancouver—the show opened on Broadway in 1997 and has already run for four years in Toronto.  But it was well worth the wait.  This is one of the most wondrous theatrical displays you will ever see.

Director Julie Taymor has created a jungle full of beautiful, fantastic creatures.  Some are puppets, like Zazu, the king’s witty bird servant (manipulated and voiced by Tony Freeman), and wiseguy meerkat Timon, who along with Pumbaa the warthog (Ben Lipitz) befriends the exiled Simba and provides much of the Act Two comedy.  Nick Cordileone gives vivid life, movement and voice to the great character of Timon in a kind of bunraku-meets-Disney style. Others are actors in costume and mask, like the comic trio of bad-guy hyenas (Monica L. Patton, Omari Tau, Ben Roseberry), the lion king himself (Dionne Randolph) and his evil brother Scar (Nicholas Carriere).  Their strong animal masks are attached by some kind of flexible hydraulic so they sometimes sit above the actor’s head, revealing his or her face, and sometimes drop in front of the face.  Either way, they have a presence that is simultaneously lifelike, cartoonish and miraculous.

Then there are the animals—the giraffes and zebras, leopard and wildebeests, gazelles, and even an elephant and a rhino, all exquisite in their costuming (also designed by Taymor), the mechanics of their movement, and the choreography.  Out of their animal costumes, the same performers show themselves to be spectacular dancers.  And all this is played out against Donald Holder’s utterly gorgeous lighting plot of African sunsets and pastel skies. 

Lion King is not only about the visuals.  The music is gorgeous, too.  Not so much Elton John and Tim Rice’s familiar show tunes—“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”—as the African chants, the eerie, rhythmic call-and-response choral numbers, often led by the otherworldly voice of spectacular Brenda Mhlongo as Rafiki.  A small orchestra plus percussionists on either side of the stage provide the sonic equivalent of the magical scenes.

I wasn’t at all moved by the story of young Simba (Kolton Stewart and his older self, Adam Jacobs) coming into his leonine manhood, ousting the evil Scar, and taking his throne alongside his childhood sweetheart Nala (Monique Lee grown into Syndee Winters).  But the plot and central characters provide a convenient and pleasant enough hook onto which Taymor hangs the brilliant spectacle.  The actors all can act, the singers sing, the dancers dance.  The rest is a sheer treat for the eyes and ears.

Don’t miss it.   

Jerry Wasserman