As good as Disney’s stage production of The Lion King is, every time I see it I think the same thing: Nothing that happens after the first 10 minutes can compare to the excitement and majesty of an amazing spectacle that is the opening number: A sunrise onstage, with African chanting morphing into the Elton John-Tim Rice classic “Circle of Life,” as a parade of wild animals — leopards, giraffes, birds, even a seemingly full-sized elephant — march from the audience onto the stage in a shimmering, emotional punch. My companion was crying before the song had even ended, and there was still well more than two hours to go.
But even though nothing’s ever quite as good as that opener — certainly not the songs written specifically for the stage by John and Rice, which are forgettable fillers that only serve to prolong the story into two acts — there’s a tremendous amount to enjoy in this production. Yes, the new songs are extraneous, but the ones held over from the 1994 animated film (“Hakuna Matata,”
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”) are as enjoyable to see here are they were on the big screen.
That’s because the director, Julie Taymor, paints on a canvas that goes from the corners of the stage to the feet of her performers and the space above the audience. It’s a circus act of stagecraft, from the thrilling stampede to the abstract creation of Mufasa with bits of wood to the joyous puppetry and performances by Nick Cordileone (Timon), Andrew Gorell (Zazu) and especially Brown Lindiwe Mkhize (Rafiki). And is there something wrong about being sexually attracted to dancing hyenas? (I’m OK with it either way.)
The plot has never been its strong suit — a vague rehashing of Hamlet, with a meerkat and warthog as stand-ins for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern — but who cares? There are giraffes on the stage.
Fair Park Music Hall, 901 First Ave. Through Oct. 20. DallasSummerMusicals.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 11,, 2013.