I should probably start out by saying that I am a Disney fanatic. I actually wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies until I was 13 — thanks, Mom — so I was raised on Disney. With such a Walt-orchestrated childhood, I was expecting “The Lion King” musical to be perfect.
Going in with such high expectations for any production is always dangerous. I generally try to keep an open mind for the impending performance, but “The Lion King” was different. I did not even question my mentality; I wanted every sing-along song, every favorite scene from the movie and every same reason to love the “The Lion King” when the play was over.
The performance blew me away, and with the resounding applauses after every scene, the rest of the audience clearly felt the same. The framing of the play takes the perfect liberties. Even though it differs substantially from the movie, it packs the same emotional punch, leaving the audience as moved as ’90s children before the big screen.
One of the most beautiful differences is the musical’s dedicated embrace of the traditional African heritage from which the movie gets its roots. The dances, lighting and costumes transported the audience to Africa. Rafiki, the archetypical wise one for those of you who have somehow managed to get through childhood without watching “The Lion King,” reached notes I did not even know were possible, using her voice as a true instrument. By the end of the play, I was moved to tears by the truth that you hear in her voice. Every word from the actress’s mouth is perfectly understood, even though much of the music is in Swahili, and I certainly don’t speak Swahili.
The vibrant colors, the perfect form of the dancers and the range of the singers still leave me awestruck, weeks after the curtain went down. For avid theatrephiles and children-at-heart, “The Lion King,” the musical crystalizes a Disney classic into a vivid experience.