The story of Disney’s “Lion King” is so well known that it hardly bears summary. A young Lion, Prince Simba (Jordan A. Hall), leaves the African court in shame believing he is responsible when his uncle, Scar (Patrick R. Brown), murders his father King Mufasa (L. Steven Taylor). He is raised in a self-imposed exile by Timon (Nick Cordileone) and the wart hog, Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz) while Scar marries Mufasa’s widow, usurps the throne, and imposes tyranny on pride-rock. When Simba (Jelani Remy) reaches adulthood, he runs across his childhood friend Nala (Thembeline Cele), and with the help of the baboon, Rafiki (Tshidi Manye), she persuades him to return to Pride Rock, confront the past, and claim his destiny
It is Hamlet, gone right, with lions. The now world famous success of Julie Taymor’s “The Lion King” stage show depends heavily on its use of pageantry, a mix of acting and large scale puppetry, and heavily westernized music that has roots in indigenous African melodies all of which are preserved in The Milwaukee Theatre’s production. As the play opens, we watch a progress of giant puppets and actors representing the African animal kingdom progress on the stage, through aisles, and in parts of the theatre itself to pay homage to the new born prince. The effect is stunning, especially with the plays score in the background (Elton John and Tim Rice with new musical material by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer).
The energy of this first sequence is maintained by the actors’ talent for mixing acting and puppetry, and their strong voices. Particularly creditable performances are given by Patrick R. Brown as Scar, and Drew Hirshfield as the bird, royal steward, and baby sitter Zazu. Robbie Swift is the most brilliant puppeteer in the show and his dexterity makes a Timon thoroughly enjoyable character while Tshidi Manye’s brings a pathological madness and drive to Rafiki’s the baboon, and to her keen insights, which are so critical in opening the adult Simba’s eyes, and turning this story into what Hamlet might have been.
When I saw this play in Toronto over a decade ago, I felt that the actor playing the young Simba was too diminutive and inexperienced for the part. That is not the case here: Jordan A. Hall, who plays the young Simba, is excellent both as an actor and singer. Working without a puppet, he gracefully uses choreographed (by Garth Fagan) movements to cultivate meaning and emotion despite his small frame and though he was playing against veteran actors who had the advantage not only of experience, but heightened visibility from their height,costumes, and puppets. He also has a surprisingly powerful voice. It is a big theater and under the technical direction of David Benken, the lighting (Donald Holder), sets and backdrops (Richard Hudson), and special effects are off the charts. Combined with the pageantry, acting, and music they make us feel as though we are in an unpopulated part of the African Sahara rather than Milwaukee at the beginning of what promises to be a very harsh winter.
Tuesday,Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Ticket prices range from as low as $25 and are far less than a downtown Chicago Broadway touring show. Milwaukee is just north of Chicago and the traffic is far less congested, parking is cheaper ( you can even find free spots near the theater) and there are ample dining spots around the “theater district”. Maybe Milwaukee is the spot for your family to see more Broadway shows.
To order tickets call the box office at 414-273-7206 or toll free at 888-612-3500
The website for the theater, where you can see what else is coming is www.MarcusCenter.org. You can order tickets there as well.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Lion King”