Recommended **** The audience was clearly ready and waiting for “The Lion King” on opening night, judging by the cheers that greeted the first notes sung by Rafiki the Mandrill (Mukelisiwe Goba). I could see expressions of sheer awe on the faces of children near me as animals – everything from giraffes to elephants – walked up the aisles toward the stage. Everything about “The Lion King” is larger than life! I give it 4 Spotlights.
At Pride Rock, Rafiki presents the new cub born to King Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) and Queen Sarabi (Tryphena Wade) to the gathered animals. The king’s brother, Scar (Patrick R. Brown), who planned on inheriting the throne until the birth, skipped the ceremony.
When Mufasa tells Simba (BJ Covington or Tré Jones) he must never go past the boundaries of their land, like all small boys, he immediately wants to go there. Uncle Scar adds to the allure by telling him that that forbidden place is an elephant graveyard. Simba and his friend, Nala (Savanna Fleisher or Mikari Tarpley) tells the lionesses a big fib about where they’re going so they get permission to go if Zazu (Drew Hirsfield), his father’s advisor, goes with them. They manage to lose Zazu and explore the elephant graveyard. Three scary hyenas surround them with every intention of eating them but Mufasa rescues them. When his father is killed, Scar sends Simba away, instructing the hyenas to kill him.
Simba is rescued from the circling buzzards by Timon (Nick Cordileone) a meerkat and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz) a warthog, who introduce him to their carefree and bug-eating life singing “Hakuna Matata”. He stays with Timon and Pumbaa until he’s grownup Simba (Aaron Nelson).
I had to laugh when a friend – who doesn’t have kids or grandkids – said he thought that the children in the audience might be scared by the story. He didn’t realize they’ve all seem the cartoon multiple times.
Hometown pride: Aaron Nelson, a native Chicagoan cast as grownup Simba, said he first saw “The Lion King” at the Cadillac Palace in 2005. Another local gal, Nia Holloway from Markham plays grownup Nala.
Because it’s a Disney production, everything about the “The Lion King” is perfect. The costumes and masks are absolutely amazing. After a few minutes, you almost forget that the animals are puppets and that most of them have people inside, manipulating their movements. The choreography is equally amazing. Whether dancing or not, the actors moved their bodies just like their animals move.
Disney’s “The Lion King” runs through January 17th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago. Performances are Wednesdays at 2:00 and 7:30 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:00; Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30, with additional performances on select dates. Check www.broadwayinchicago.com for times and dates of performances during the holidays. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with an intermission. Tickets are $35-$180. The best parking option for Cadillac Palace is the garage on Franklin. FYI (800) 775-2000, www.ticketmaster.com or www.broadwayinchicago.com.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Lion King”