The Lion King Roars Again at the Paramount
How do you fill a big touring house like Seattle's Paramount Theatre in these dire economic times? The answer appeared to be "Hakuna Matata" (no worries) this past week when Disney's The Lion King, the Tony-Award winning musical that is the unquestioned jewel in the crown of Disney's screen to stage adaptations, met with roars of affection from packed houses. Deservedly so, since this company is in pristine shape in terms of both the stage spectacle and creativity inherent in director Julie Taymor's re-envisioning of the animated film classic for the stage, and a cast as crisp and disciplined as one could hope for.
Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi's book closely follows the film, appropriating virtually all of its gags, in the Hamlet-esque telling of the young lion cub Simba, who, through the machinations of his slimy uncle Scar, is led to believe that he is responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa, king of the pride. Banishing himself, Simba grows up befriended by the sassy meercat Timon and the gregarious and flatulent warthog Pumbaa. Fate ultimately reunites him with childhood sweetheart Nala and he is led back to the Pridelands, laid to waste by Scar and his vicious Hyena cronies, and reclaims his birthright as the Lion King. The score, principally composed by Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, is augmented by musical contributions from a number of writers including Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Hans Zimmer, Jay Rifkin, and even director Taymor herself, though the John/Rice compositions like "Circle of Life," "Can't You Feel the Love Tonight?" and of course "Hakuna Matata" remain the musical touchstones of the piece.
Taymor and Mark Curry's mask and puppet design resound and impress from the minute the show begins, and audience glee wells as the parade of animals appear in the house, coming down the aisle to assume the tableau at the end of "The Circle of Life." Richard Hudson's dazzling scenic design, Donald Holder's rich lighting design, and Taymor's richly and authentically designed and wildly colorful costumes guarantee a feast for the visual senses. Garth Fagan's robust and characterful choreography mostly resists the urge to give its regards to Broadway, except when Timon and Pumbaa are the focus of the action. And, if the second half of the first act feels a bit protracted for the little ones (and some adults) who are waiting for the comic relief to arrive, act two recovers its momentum handsomely.
In the large, impeccably cast company, a particular favorite is Phindile Mkhize as the mystical monkey Rafiki. Timothy Carter as Scar is a perfectly dastardly villain with a Shakespearean air. Dionne Randolph is a regal Mufasa, and André Jackson handles Simba's journey and maturation with ease. As the beleaguered bird Zazu, Tony Freeman is both funny and impressively agile. Mark Shunock as Timon and especially Ben Lipitz as Pumbaa give all the borscht belt energy one could ask to their roles, and Chaz Marcus Fleming as young Simba (who alternates in the role with Marquis Kofi Rodriguez) is an exuberant delight.
In short, if tight budgets limit families from bringing everyone to a live, Broadway touring musical more than once a year, this company of The Lion King is a worthy choice to make.
The Lion King runs Tuesday-Sundays through March 15 at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $19.50-$75 (special loge seats for selected shows are $115). For more information call 206-292-ARTS or go online to www.theparamount.com.