Bright colors, extravagant sets and life-sized animal puppets compose the background of Disney’s “The Lion King,” which transports audience members to Pride Rock. The U.S. National Tour of the show directed by Julie Taylor opened on Jan. 9 at the Hult Center for Performing Arts.
The play is based on the classic Disney animated movie of the same name, following Simba, Mufasa, Scar and the rest of its beloved characters.
With the exception of a few additional scenes, the musical follows the same plot as the movie. The show takes us through Simba’s (Jared Dixon) circle of life — from the moment he is presented to the animals on Pride Rock to becoming king and introducing his child.
The musical first opened in 1997 in Minneapolis but has maintained its relevance with references to “Tar-jay,” Angry Birds, Twitter, “Frozen” and The Floss. These moments fit right in to the show, never feeling gimmicky or out of place.
The wonderful Rafiki (Buyi Zama) kicked the show off with her booming vocals which, paired with her comical movements, made the audience cackle even when she spoke a different language.
Part of what transports the audience to Pride Rock is the life-sized animal puppets and costume pieces that become part of the set and parade around the theater. The actors weave themselves through the aisles to surround the audience with music and puppet animals.
There’s nothing quite like making eye contact with the evil hyenas or exchanging smiles with the ensemble that wave birds in the air.
One of the main highlights of the show is the 232 intricate puppets that almost every actor uses.
Some actors sport ornate masks, like Simba, Scar (Spencer Plachy) and Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey). Others wear hand puppets, like Zazu (Greg Jackson). While Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz) don full body pieces.
Each mask is an integral part of the character to the point where the mask is an extension of the actor who maneuvers it; however, it’s the show’s diverse cast that truly brings the characters to life.
The raw emotion of each character is clear on each actor’s face. Whether or not their face is completely visible doesn’t matter because the authentic feeling is there throughout the production.
Despite the intricacies of performing this musical, the energy the actors put into the show doesn’t diminish. The same care and enthusiasm put into the first of 20 musical numbers continues into the last — not an easy feat considering the heavy props and taxing dance numbers, which range from classical ballet to a quick-paced African dance.
Every choice made by Taylor, who also designed the costumes, was well thought out and made with great attention to detail. “The Lion King” presents a magical evening that will bring your childhood memories to life.
There are eight performances left of “The Lion King,” and tickets start around $55 depending on seating and availability. For more information about dates and tickets, visit the Hult Center for Performing Arts’ website.