Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Lion King
National Tour
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's review of Darlene Popovic: Weapons of Mass Distraction

Dashaun Young
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Lion King has returned to San Francisco where Mufasa, Sarabi, Scar, and of course Simba are making their home in the cavernous Orpheum Theatre for seven weeks. This is the fourth time I have seen this remarkable musical, starting with the Broadway production in the fall of 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. I saw the London production in 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre and finally the previous tour appearance here. The Lion King is the third longest running musical on Broadway and the highest earning Broadway musical of all time, grossing more than 1 billion dollars.

I love the opening minutes of the show as Rafiki, played beautifully by Buyi Zama, begins summoning the animals to Pride Rock. The stage and aisle are filled with the cast as animals in "The Circle of Life." You can't help but get excited. The remaining two hours and ten minutes is a real challenge, with the sets constantly changing and the amazing lighting of the scenes. The wildebeest scene is one the best production scenes, with 52 mechanical and actor creatures in that scene alone. Donald Holder's lighting design and Richard Hudson's scenic designer are works of art.

The Lion King is a spectacular production with 48 actors, 200 puppets, and 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects controlled by the actors. I particularly like the 18 exotic giraffes, the lumbering elephant, and the wonderful sleek cheetah which is half person, half animal.

Is it a great musical? Not really. The ordinariness 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-type songs. Sometimes the actors speak too fast, particularly Drew Hirshfield as Zuzu and the three hyenas who jabber away.

Jalen Harris, who plays Simba the boy in the first act, gives an energy-driven performance with intense vocal cords when he sings. Dashaun Young nicely plays the adult Simba in the second act. Nick Cordileone as Timon and Ben Lipitz as Pumbaa are a hoot with their vaudeville routines as they dominate the second act. Mark Campbell is excellent as Scar with his Shakespearean voice. Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa is a powerful singer and especially commanding in "They Live in You," and Nia Holloway is pitch perfect as Nala and she stops the show with her blissful interpretation of "Shadowland."

The Lion King is a great show for the parents and kids who will flock to see it here in San Francisco for the magic of the production.

The Lion King is playing at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street at 8th, San Francisco through December 31st, 2016. For tickets call 888-746-1799 or on line at For more information on the tour, visit Coming up next is the the Lincoln Center production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I opening on November 15 and running through December 11 at the Golden Gate Theatre.

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