Broadway’s hit musical, The Lion King, is gracing Vancouver with its presence once again. The show, which has been in production since 1997, has surpassed the one billion dollar mark in sales, making it the most successful Broadway musical to date. Sorry Cats and Phantom of the Opera stans. From the moment the curtains rose, it was more than apparent that the aforementioned descriptors were wholly accurate.
Just like Disney’s animated film, which the musical is based on, we begin The Lion King with the birth of Simba at Pride Rock. Everyone in the kingdom arrives to catch a glimpse of the lion that will one day succeed his father, Mufasa, as the king. Recreating the wonder and magic of this scene from the animated version would be difficult for a variety of reasons; the main one being you cannot draw it out. That said, I liked the live version a whole lot better.
A backdrop of the bright African sun created a mood of tranquility while the actors’ costumes displayed an array of animals from the African jungle in one of the most creative displays of costuming I have seen. With the swelling of music, a combination of “Circle of Life” with “Nants’ Igonyama,” the audience bears witness to the lion cub’s arrival onstage atop Pride Rock, while the rest of the animal kingdom make their entrance from the back of the theatre down the aisles. At first, you don’t notice the other animals because you are rather focused on Mufasa holding up Simba but then you realize some of the house lights are slowly coming on and you turn to see elephants, giraffes, zebras, antelopes and more slowly walking towards the stage. The music, coupled with the opulence of the opening scene, creates an emotional moment that, as my plus one for the evening said, gives you goose bumps. It’s particularly difficult to articulate the visual wonder The Lion King manages to create onstage except to say that no matter what you have heard, it will exceed your expectations.
The musical keeps many songs from the Disney film including “Circle of Life”, “Hakuna Matata” and “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” but also introduces new songs such as my favourite “They Live in You” (sung by Mufasa in Act I) and “He Lives in You (Reprise)” (sung by Rafiki and Simba in Act II). This song in particular, intensifies the emotional element underlying the whole story of The Lion King. Specifically, the role identity, as well as one’s inner strength, plays in how we shape our place in society, or in this case, the lion kingdom. For me, Farah Lopez’s (Rafiki in Act II) almost raw vocals during “He Lives in You” really embodied the emotional sentiment of trying to find one’s place and own up to our responsibilities. Another track that stood out was the haunting song “Shadowland” sung by Nala (Nia Holloway) as she makes the decision to find a solution to the problems Scar has created when he took over as King upon Mufasa’s death. It’s a truly beautiful song and also incredibly sad. Much like “They Live in You/ He Lives in You (Reprise)” the song “Shadowland” helps illuminate the emotional journey the characters are going through in a way that written dialogue never could.
The Lion King is an easy night out in that it is great for families, a date, or just some friends taking in a show for the evening. Basically, it is a crowd pleaser that has emotional elements but also some funny moments too. I mean, Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz) sole purpose is to provide comic relief, and they do that expertly, much to the glee of many of the younger audience members. If you have been debating if the show is worth the admission price, I would submit, yes, yes it is worth the ticket price, down to the last cent.
The Lion King is now playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until July 12th.