The Lion King Finally Rules Seattle
As it usually takes two to three years for a hit Broadway musical's road company to reach Seattle, the exceptionally long wait for Disney's The Lion King to reach Puget Sound audiences (seven years by my count) has probably set higher expectations for this much admired and awarded show. Not to worry. Barely pared down for touring from the version on Broadway, the show looks great and is played with zeal and aplomb by a cast as good, if not better than, the original Broadway or Los Angeles companies. The show seems destined to sustain brisk ticket sales throughout its long local run, through January 16, at the Paramount.
As it has been noted repeatedly, I will not go into a long-winded explanation here of how Julie Taymor's Tony Award winning direction of The Lion King made the show a more critically lauded event than Disney's previous animated film musical hit transfer to Broadway blockbuster, Beauty & The Beast. Audiences have embraced this more stylized adaptation of the Hamlet-tinged tale of a young lion cub's arduous journey towards manhood and finding his rightful place on the throne of Pride Rock. It is a more adult show than the more formulaic Beauty; in fact, I saw many more grown ups than kids in the opening night crowd at the Paramount.
The stage musical's book, faithfully if not slavishly adapted from the film by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, augments the main musical score by Elton John (music) and Tom Rice (lyrics) with atmospheric songs by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Hans Zimmer and Julie Taymor herself. Taymor's contributions also extend to the resplendent and authentically African costume design and a collaboration with Michael Curry on the show-defining mask and puppet design. On stage, The Lion King benefits greatly from being so much one person's vision. It is a seamless presentation, only occasionally cheapened by some of the tackier and more anachronistic comedy riffs that exist in the script. Certainly, the opening procession of animals during "Circle of Life" makes up for any other quibbles one has with the show (and makes arriving on time and being seated promptly a must).
Standout performances are Larry Yando's dastardly and amusing tour as the villainous Scar, Rufus Bonds, Jr.'s majestic Mufasa, Thandazille A. Soni's vocally soaring and comedically inspired Rafiki, Derek Hasenstab's veddy proper and long-suffering Zazu, and Adam Hunter and Phil Fiorini's deliciously daffy duo of Timon and Pumbaa. Brandon Louis has a good handle on the grown Simba, and pairs well with Adia Ginneh's self-possessed Nala. Twins Robert and Ryan Harris alternate as Young Simba, and I saw Robert, who was most delightful. The ensemble of amazing young actor/singer/dancers negotiate Garth Fagan's ambitious and demanding choreography with consummate flair, especially given the bulky costumes and masks many of them are wearing while dancing.
Richard Hudson's scenic designs are often breathtaking and are perfectly served by Donald Holder's masterful lighting design. Sound designer Steve C. Kennedy and Music director Rick Snyder make sure the show and score sound fabulous.
In short, The Lion King is about all you could ask for in family entertainment. Just how many parents will shell out the bucks to bring their kids to a show where the ticket prices are, I believe, a new high for Seattle theatre, is anybody's guess. But then again, to paraphrase a catch phrase from a popular film, "If Disney produced it, they will come."
The Lion King runs through January 16, 2005 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th & Pine in downtown Seattle. For more information, visit www.paramount.com.