The stage musical version of The Lion King finally lands in Texas, and even four years into its Broadway run, the show still truly creates a world of wonders.
Long Live the King!
Since it opened on Broadway in 1997, The Lion King has been a genuine sensation in the theatre world and one of the few shows generally considered a must-see (even if you don't have kids). But unless you could get to New York or one of the few cities where Disney deigned to open a successive production (London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo, Fukuoka, or Hamburg), you were out of luck. In April, that changed. After four and a half years, the Mouse House -- famous for keeping a tight rein on its properties -- has finally delivered a touring version, and for the next three months it's in our back yard. Texas managed to score the second and third stops on the show's first run around the country: Houston, where it opened July 5 and is playing through August 25, and Dallas, where it'll run from September 13 to October 20.
Your faithful correspondent took in a performance this past Sunday and is pleased to report that the show not only met more than four years' worth of expectations but surpassed them. The show truly does create a world of wonders: a menagerie of beasts parading past your seats, brightly colored birds wheeling above your heads, savanna grasslands that dance, a rock outcropping that pirouettes, giant birds that whirl, young lovers that fly, and all manner of expressive, active creatures that are attached to -- make that, one with -- human beings. In translating the successful animated film to the stage, director Julie Taymor expanded The Lion King's scope to make Africa not simply a setting for the story but the cultural engine for its telling. Lebo M's vocal score, with its spirited African chants, provides a sense of place as much as the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice provide character; the costume and character designs, which draw on the style and hues of traditional African masks and costumes, infuse the show with both a visual exuberance and primal power; and the dynamic choreography by Garth Fagan, which incorporates every kind of dance from African ceremonial to American modern, gives the movement much of the same. Moreover, Taymor floods the work with theatrical invention, enough ingenious staging to fill a dozen shows. From the striking use of shadow theatre to the extraordinary fusion of human performers with animal masks and puppets, the stage musical is as animated as the original film.
The performers for the touring version bring to the show all the energy and style of the show's design work and direction. There isn't an artist who doesn't excel, who isn't a pleasure to watch, and that includes UT-Austin alum Blake Hammond as Pumbaa the warthog. Hammond hits this prestigious national tour after a string of Broadway appearances in the revivals of Kiss Me Kate, The Music Man, and On the Town.
If you have any interest in seeing the show, don't miss this chance. Once the tour leaves Dallas, it won't be back in the state for another year, probably longer. The Lion King plays through August 25 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Call Ticketmaster, 713/629-3700, or visit www.ticketmaster.com for info. The show plays Dallas from September 13 through October 20 in the Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 First. Call 214/691-7200 or visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com or www.dallassummermusicals.org for info.