The Lion King comes to San Francisco
Also see Richard's review of Spray
Mufasa, Sarabi, Scar and of course Simba will be making their home in the cavernous Orpheum Theatre through September, if not longer. The Tony winning musical The Lion King, which is now in its seventh sold out year in New York, will be entertaining persons of all ages.
This is an event for the whole family. The Lion King is a spectacular production with 48 actors, 200 puppets, and 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects being controlled by actors. Some of the "animals" are brilliant. I particularly like the 18 foot exotic giraffes, the lumbering elephant and that wonderful sleek cheetah that is half person, half animal. The animal procession at the beginning of the musical is not as elaborate as the New York production, but for a second company, it is still an amazing display of stagecraft for an opening.
Taymor's vision for this piece is its greatest asset and that alone is worth the price of admission. Is it a great musical? I think not. The banality of the material is a problem, and the score by Elton John and Tim Rice (with additional music by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer) is nothing special. The score contains a lot of jungle drumbeats and Disney film type songs. Sometimes the actors speak too fast and many of the lines are lost. This is especially true when the three hyenas are jabbering away.
The sets are constantly developing with the amazing lighting of the scenes. The wildebeest scene is one of the best production scenes I have seen in a long time. There are 52 mechanical and actor creatures in that scene alone. The lighting by Donald Holder and technical director David Benken is a work of art.
Did I mention there are actors and singers in this event? Alexander V. Bass is a treasure as the young Simba. What an amazing young actor, who must weigh all of 40 pounds. The energy coming from this young talent is simply incredible. And what a set of vocal cords this kid has - his singing will blow you away. What a shame he is not in the second act when the older Simba played by Brandon Victor Dixon takes center stage. Dixon is a good and powerful singer but he does not have the same charisma.
Benjamin Clost's Timon and Bob Bouchard's Pumbaa are a real hoot. They speak those crazy zingers clearly, and you cannot help but laugh at their old time vaudeville jokes. Clost uses a Nathan Lane type voice, and Timon and Pumbaa both dominate the scenes in the second act. Derek Smith (pictured at right) makes a good Scar, with his Shakespearean trained voice that reminds me of Jim Backus in Gilligan's Island.
Rufus Bonds Jr. as Mufasa is a powerful singer and especially commanding in "They Live In You." Derek Hasenstab is disappointing as Zazu, and he races through the song "The Morning Report," but the movements of the bird are excellent. Aida Ginnech is good as Nala and she stops the show with her rapturous rendition of "Shadowland." However, there is very little chemistry between her and Simba.
The Lion King has breathtaking beauty and breaks new ground for the epic musicals that are becoming popular today. It's a great show for the parents and kids who will flock to it here in San Francisco. Taymor demonstrates that she is a master showman and well deserved of her Tony awards.
The Lion King is playing at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St at 8th, San Francisco. Tickets, on sale through September 5, are available through Ticketmaster (415-512-7770) or 415-356-LION, at all Ticketmaster ticket centers, through bestofbroadway-sf.com and at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office. For groups of 15 or more call Group Sales at 415-551-2020.