Translating an animated feature to the musical stage is a daunting challenge. Really, any film, even with actors who are drawn onto cells, usually makes a rocky transition. That's what makes The Lion King so disarming and dazzling in its conception and execution. The techniques and ideas pioneered here in the Tony Award-winning show have since been used elsewhere, but they still manage to excite and enthrall an audience, and that's a credit to all the skilled technicians and actors who make these characters come to life. The current production playing the Fox is a magical ride that must be taken, and it's easily an "E" ticket (if you remember those days at the Disney fun parks).
When young Simba, the lion cub, is brought into this world it begins the circle of life. Of course, his destiny is to inherit his father's (Mufasa) mantle as King over all he surveys. But, there's a fly in the ointment, and that's Simba's Uncle Scar, a shiftless character with his eyes on the prize, no matter what the cost. Tragedy ensues. And, since this is a revenge tale of sorts, it won't be long before an older and wiser Simba is back looking to reclaim his birthright from the evil Scar.
Dionne Randolph makes a marvelous, rich voiced Mufasa, and his interplay with the young Simba (Zavion Hill or Adante Power) is well executed. Mark David Kaplan adds to the amusing proceedings as the nervous bird, Zazu. Brent Harris is splendidly slimy as Scar, making the most of a deliciously written part that drips with vehement and sarcasm. His hyena minions, Shenzi (Rashada Dawan), Banzai (Keith Bennett), and Ed (Robbie Swift) add a considerable amount of dark humor to the proceedings. Of course, this wouldn't be the Lion with Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), and they add their own brand of sophomoric humor and neurotic behavior to their raising of the exiled young Simba. Jelani Remy is quite good as Simba's playful love interest, Nala (the younger version is played by either Khail Brant, Kailah McFadden, or Sade Phillip-Democry. Buyi Zama guides the action as a sort of Narrator/Greek Chorus in the role of Rafiki.
A touring director isn't specified, so we can only credit the remarkable work of visionary director Julie Taymor for this colorful spectacle. Elton John and Tim Rice's original score (with considerable aid from other composers here) is well directed by Rick Snyder. Taymor and Michael Currey's mask and puppet creations are simply eye-popping.
Go see The Lion King at the Fox Theatre while it's in town (through September 2, 2012), it's certainly an entertaining and enjoyable show. By the way, my six year old came along and he loved it!