Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 30, 2010

The Lion King

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through February 14, 2010
by Shera Cohen

While many theatre-lovers have taken sides on the Disneyfication of today's musical theatre - its effects on the medium, audiences, and future audiences - this review takes "The Lion King" strictly at face value. The fact that its Broadway opening earned just about every theatre award given is no surprise. Perhaps a bit surprising to some is that the national tour, in cities such as Hartford, is equal in presentation, skill, special effects, costuming, and choreography. "Lion King" in CT compares equally to NYC's "Lion King."

The story, straight from the movie version, offers some life lessons to lions and to humans, particularly the children in both species. There's drama and humor - the later on two levels for the appreciation of the kids and their adult chaperones. Elton John and Tim Rice's music ranges from contemporary rock ("The Morning Report") to ballads ("The Live in You") to calypso, and more. Of course, there is the expected beauty of "Circle of Life" and contagious beat of "Hakuna Matata." Singers shine, particularly in "Shadowland" and "Endless Night." All of this makes for the foundation of a good musical.

The "wow effect" of "Lion King," and far bigger than the songs, singers, and story combined, is the staging. The real stars are exquisitely talented director/costume designer Julie Taymor and choreographer Garth Fagan. Unfortunately, neither appears onstage to receive standing ovations.

"Lion King" is a visual delight with humans portraying life-size animals, birds, and vegetation. It is easy to only see the costumes and masks. Yet the faces of each actor "underneath" perfectly reflect his/her character. The backdrops of shimmering sun, dessert, sky, mountains, and elephant graveyard are massive. Color abounds in the come-to-life imaginations of the young lions. Technology is state-of-the-art in creating the art of live theatre, particularly in the stampede scene. Fagan, known for his choreography of his own famous dance troupe, as well as works performed by troupes across the globe, has created movements perhaps unseen onstage before "Lion King's" debut.

As for opening night's audience, chock full of children, it was a pleasure to hear their sounds of exclamation, lion "grrrrs," and questioning "Is that real?!"