“Lion King” Never Fails- Delight For Young and Old Alike

“The Lion King” has roared onto the Fox Theatre stage again and it’s just as charming- just as powerful as it was 15 years ago when it won the Tony for Best Musical. There’s something magical about this show because it weaves so many new elements together while harking back to the basics of successful musicals that sustain a show through the years.

From those first iconic notes that Buyi Zama sings as Rafiki at the show’s opening to the eventual parade of animals that march across the stage and through the audience, you know you’re in for a treat unlike anything else. Those animals are the primary “magic” of “The Lion King.” Julie Taymor’s original designs creating realistic African denizens of the jungle using puppets and masks create the spectacular feel of the environment we’re swept into for the next two and half hours. They are stunning, beautiful and still hold the rapt attention of kids and adults alike. What a wonderful achievement in theatre.

The Elton John and Tim Rice music and lyrics combine with a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi to further enhance this story that started out as a Disney animated classic. This current cast is spectacular as well. A rotating cast of the youngsters brought us a delightful performance when we saw the show by Zavion J. Hill as the young Simba. Powerful voice and some crazy but controlled dance moves make him an instant star. His lovely little co-star, Kailah McFadden, was also a treat as the young Nala. Equally effective are Jelani Remy and Syndee Winters as the grown-up versions.

Dionne Randolph is a powerful Mufasa and the wonderful work of Mark David Kaplan as the bird, Zazu, almost steals the show. Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz are outstanding as the comedy duo of Timon and Pumbaa who get the great first act closing number, “Hakuna Matata.” And Brent Harris is powerfully evil as Uncle Scar with Tryphena Wade turning in a first-rate job as Sarabi.

This is certainly an ensemble show, however, as the score of animals from the leaping gazelles to the long-necked giraffes and the hysterical hyenas as well as all of the others forming that  delightful menagerie that becomes the background of “The Lion King.” Kudos again to Julie Taymor, director as well as designer of the puppets and masks along with Michael Curry, the delightful Garth Fagan choreography and a wonderful set and lighting design by Richard Hudson and Donald Holder respectively.

With a nod to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “The Lion King” offers up a great story that may have a few frightening moments for the youngsters with this stage version, but seemed to delight rather than scare the kids the night we enjoyed the show. It’s a powerful piece that still holds together and still holds an audience spellbound after 15 years of bringing us all joy and enjoyment. Catch it at the Fabulous Fox through September 2nd. Call 314-534-1111 or go to fabulousfox.com for tickets or more information.

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