As a child, The Lion King was my favorite movie. Nothing could compare to the deep emotions I felt while watching it. The story of Simba, the proud king-to-be, and the rivalry between his father Mufasa and Uncle Scar never failed to make me laugh and cry. This musical brought back all the magic I felt as a child and so much more. For one night, January 17th, at the Orpheum Theatre, I felt the pure joy and fascination of my four year old self mixed with a depth that only my more mature self could fully appreciate.
The acting, dancing, and singing were exceptional. Ntomb ‘Khona DIamini as Rafiki made me laugh, and Adam Kozlowski’s performance of Simba was just as heart wrenching as Sydnee Winter’s of Nala. Young Nala (Kailah McFadden) and Young Simba (Niles Fitch) impressed me to no end and pulled my heartstrings. However, the graceful ensemble dancers made the biggest impression on me. They played lionesses, birds of paradise, jungle plants, and various animals. Their dancing was beautiful and their use of puppet inspired costumes brought eveerything alive, from savanna grass to giraffes. When the animals walked down the aisles, nothing could have wiped the delight from my face.
And now we come to what I’m probably most excited about! The very first scene drew my breath away by turning the stage into a warm, glowing sunrise. The lighting stayed on point the whole show, beautifully conveying the mood and the setting. The bright yellow light and minimalist use of fog made me feel like I was on a dusty, hot savanna. At night, what seemed hundreds of stars twinkled clearly against the black sky. Clever scenes utilized shadow puppets in small spotlights adding the perception of distance. A tiger-striped, diagonally lit backdrop added visual tension to serious dialogue. In the Shadowlands, the stark contrast with cold white light and a grey set gave me chills. The sets and effects looked impressive, but were still the simplest answer for what needed to be achieved, and they worked elegantly.
I have spent a good amount of time trying to identify ways in which this production disappointed or fell short. After much effort, I have to admit that either this musical was perfect (unlikely), or that I was unable to maintain a critical eye in the face of such a sweeping personal experience. My inability to criticize first made me feel as though I were failing in some way, but after much reflection, all I can think to say is “thank you” to the cast and crew for the gift of The Lion King.
The Lion King was a nostalgic, magical visit to my childhood, and a beautifully put-together musical I would recommend to kids from 6 to 66.