Theatre Review: Broadway Series' "Lion King"
Shadow puppets, talking animals, and African drums. . . It’s the stage version of “The Lion King,” now in Sacramento through June 5th at the Community Center Theatre.
Monday, May 2, 2005
Three things make “The Lion King” really stand out as a piece of theater: the costumes, puppets and masks. And you get them all right up front, in the very first scene. It’s a fabulous processional, with all sorts of stylized African animals converging on the stage in one of the most colorful, beautifully-arranged openings you will ever see in a musical. Julie Taymor, who directed “Lion King” in addition to designing the costumes, puppets and masks, hits the ball out of the park in her first at-bat. Taymor works her visual magic several more times, including a memorable stampede by a thundering herd, presented on a multi-level set. However, this show peaks in its first hour, and it goes on a good deal longer than that. As time passes, you begin to notice that the songs, by Elton John and Tim Rice, are kind of nondescript. The incidental music – by other composers – has a lovely African sheen, but if you like what you’re hearing, you’d be better off getting a Ladysmith Black Mambazo cd, rather than the soundtrack. English majors will also recognize that “Lion King” is a thinly disguised, simplified version of “Hamlet” – but if you’re going to steal, steal from the best! Ultimately, the show’s length works against it – quite a few young children were sleeping in their parents’ arms when the curtain came down around 10:30 p.m. But as a piece of theater design and stagecraft, “The Lion King” is top drawer.