Friday, November 14, 1997

The Lion King


Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice; additional music and lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer, book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Dir. Julie Taymor. Chor. Garth Fagan. Minskoff Theatre (originally opened and reviewed at the New Amsterdam Theater).

Disney's second foray onto the Broadway stage is met with higher acclaim than its predecessor, Beauty and the Beast. Critics applaud Disney on going a less safe route by choosing Julie Taymor as director and adore her puppets and costumes, but are not as captivated by the book, by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.

The Journal News A+
(Jacques Le Sourd) There isn't a moment of schlock or visual overkill here. There is nothing cute, save the new-born cub that appears at the very end, the fruit of Simba's marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Nala (Heather Headley). With its strong sense of place tempered with a global spirit, this show is as far removed from Disney's cloying "Beauty and the Beast," still playing up the street, as it could possibly be. Though not appropriate for infants, "The Lion King" is a spellbinding introduction to the art of theater, for anyone over the age of 6.And for the rest of us, this show is a reaffirmation of life that leaves us, inevitably, both thrilled and moved. Stop reading, and buy a ticket. Move over, "Cats." "The Lion King" is here to stay.

Entertainment Weekly A+
(Jess Cagle) To bring The Lion King into three dimensions, Disney tapped Julie Taymor, an experimental director known for her cerebral productions meshing puppetry and poetry. The unlikely partnership has turned the most successful animated film in Disney's history into the most exciting Broadway experience since "Rent" routed the Great White Way into the '90s two seasons ago.

CurtainUp A+
(Elyse Sommer) I'd say run don't walk to get your tickets, but there's really no need to rush. I'm not a gambler, but I feel safe in predicting that this spectacular translation from canned entertainment to vibrantly alive stage show is more than likely to become a Forty-Second Street landmark. In fact, if thirteen-year-old Scott Irby-Ranniar, the delightful young lion hero doesn't tire of show business, he might well get a chance to graduate to the role of the older Simba. So what makes the multi-talented (director, puppet/mask and costume designer, music/lyric contributor) Julie Taymor's version of The Lion King so special?. . .For starters she's turned the cartoon movie's story into a musical that takes not only the movie but the concept of theatrical spectacle to a new level. The cartoony characters have been reinvented with wildly imaginative masks and puppets, (co-designed by Michael Curry) with actors and mask/puppets clearly visible to the audience. This purposefully anthropomorphic cast provides a gasp-after-gasp inducing, fly-by two hours and forty minutes.

Los Angeles Times A
(Laurie Winer) Long the whipping boy of serious American culture, musicals nevertheless can be the most powerful form of theater. Anyone who doubts or has forgotten their potential for rapture need only see the opening number of Disney’s “The Lion King” on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre. People will be talking about its particular fusion of music, story and spectacle for as long as anyone is alive to remember it.

NYMag B-
(John Simon) You will be bombarded by some of the most beautiful and spectacular sights theater can offer from before and behind, so eyes in the back of the head will come in handy. You will be harangued by second-rate standard-show music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, and also by Lebo Mï's stirring African chants and ululations, to which your active ear should be cocked.

New York Times C+
(Ben Brantley) There has been much jokey speculation about the artistic marriage of the corporate giant and the bohemian iconoclast, which has been discussed as though Donald Trump and Karen Finley had decided to set up housekeeping. But that rich first number, in which those life-size animal figures assume a transcendent, pulsing existence, seems to suggest that these strange bedfellows might indeed live in blissful harmony. Unfortunately, it turns out that these glorious opening moments are only the honeymoon part of this fable of the coming of age of a lion with a father fixation. Throughout the show's 2 hours and 40 minutes (as against the 75-minute movie), there will be plenty of instances of breathtaking beauty and scenic ingenuity, realized through techniques ranging from shadow puppetry to Bunraku. Certainly, nowhere before on Broadway has a stampede of wildebeests or a herd of veldt-skimming gazelles been rendered with such eye-popping conviction.

TheaterMania C-
(Martin Denton) The question is: is it good? Well, most of the time it's visually impressive, and a good deal of the time it's reassuringly familiar...But, for me anyway, nice as it all is, there's a notable lack of energy here. The material is notably weak--the storyline is simple-minded, the book is clumsy, and the score is only average--and even dressed up with all the avant-garde pizazz and theatrical technique that costumer-director Taymor can muster, this fundamental weakness can't be overcome. Without a compelling story to tell, the show finally is only about telling a story.

Journal News A+ 14; EW A+ 14; CurtainUp A+ 14; LA Times A 13; NYMag B- 9;The New York Times C+ 8; TheaterMania C- 6; TOTAL: 78/7 = 11.14 (B+)

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