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Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: The Lion King

J. Anthony Crane as “Scar” and Dionne Randolph as “Mufasa” face off in 
THE LION KING National Tour.  ©Disney.  Photo Credit:  Joan Marcus.

Hakuna matata
Montreal production of The Lion King goes off without a hitch
by Richard Burnett

There are 110 people working on this Lion King show, including 48 cast members (actors, dancers, singers and puppeteers).

If there is just one piece of advice I have for anybody going to see The Lion King, it’s get there on time. Otherwise you will not be seated until 10 minutes into the show, and that’s because the showstopping opening sequence – yes, their showstopper opens the show – requires the cast to make their way to the stage through the crowd in their incredible puppet costumes.

I don’t have much to say about the storyline since everybody has either seen the play or the Disney movie it was faithfully adapted from. The Lion King has become as ubiquitous as Sir Elton John – who composed much of the music for this  musical– and the African saying “Hakuna matata” (Swahili for “No Worries”). 

But just in case, Simba the lion son has been tricked by his Uncle Scar into believing he is responsible for his father Mufasa’s death. Prodded by Scar, who covets Mufasa’s throne, Simba runs aways and grows up with the help of his two best friends Pumbaa (a warthog ) and Timon (a meerkat), only to return to challenge Scar for the throne.

All the familiar hit songs from the movie are performed live by the cast and band. The sound at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier was absolutely excellent, no one flubbed their lines, the masks, puppets and elaborate costumes (especially the heavy beaded African costumes worn by the singers) were stunning. Had The Lion King NOT won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design in 1998, the production would have been robbed.

This production (one of eight around the world, including permanent productions on Broadway and in London’s West End) boasts 18 semi-trailer trucks worth of sets, puppets and costumes. There are 110 people working on this Lion King show, including 48 cast members (actors, dancers, singers and puppeteers). Clearly the choreography offstage – especially in the very tight dressing room “bunker” onstage behind the rear curtain – is as calculated as every step onstage. There literally is no room for error.

I must admit I went to see this production with my 17-year-old brother Skye with whom I had seen the original Disney movie a hundred times when he was child. So during this production when Mufasa – played with superb gravitas by the well-cast Dionne Randolph – sings He Lives In You to his son Simba (their relationship in the very strong first act is the real heart and soul of The Lion King),  I was quite overwhelmed.

The song is repeated in the second act when 32-year-old South African actress Buyi Zama – who steals every scene she’s in portraying Rafiki the wise baboon shaman – belts it out with the cast backing her up in choir mode. In any other musical, this would have been the showstopper. In The Lion King, it merely comes a close second.

In other words, from beginning to end, the Montreal production of The Lion King is worth every penny of your ticket price.

The Lion King runs at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier at Place des Arts until Sept 4. Running time is 2 hours 40 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.
Tickets available through Evenko 

1 comment:

  1. Spot on review Mr. Burnett. Every Montrealer should run to see this show !!


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