Theatre Review: Broadway Series' "Lion King"

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(Sacramento, CA)
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.