The Lion King is a sight for sour eyes, right? Whichever adaptation you experienced first, there’s no denying that the development of Simba, the tragic death of Mufasa, and the hysterics of Pumba are enough to melt even the coldest hearts. But underneath the heart-warming story, The PrideLands have been a goldmine for Disney. This is a narrative that seems to balance commercial calculations with honest fan appeal – it’s a win-win situation.
The Lion King Musical – A Captivating Narrative of The PrideLands
From October 3 through to October 27, 2019, the Broadway musical roared (pun intended) into the Citizens Bank Opera House, Boston. The current musical cast is led by Richard A. Phillips Jr., who plays the young Simba, and Jared Dixon as the grown version. Mufasa, the beloved king of the PrideLands is played by Gerald Ramsey – though we have to admit that his performance is a bit erratic but intriguing nonetheless. The wise hornbill with a mouth, Zazu, is played by the equally amusing Greg Jackson.
Over to the ‘dark side’ in the realm of mischief and greed, the cast is led by the heinous Scar (Mufasa’s brother). Spencer Plachy captures the sinister and laid-back traits of Scar to near perfection as he plots to win in the game of thrones. He is helped by the greedy pack of hyenas, including Shenzi (played by Martin Sykes), Ed (Robbie Swift), and Banzai (Keith Bennett).
When this ruthless gang of power-hungry animals successfully plot the death of Mufasa, Simba is forced to run away, carrying the guilt of his father’s loss. (P.S The death of Mufasa is easily one of the most heart-breaking scenes in any Disney animated feature – well, aside from the loss of Hector in Coco, and Ellie in Up).
An Artistic Triumph – Hakuna Matata!
The ingenious and coherent construct of The Lion King musical is the brainchild of visionary director Julie Taymor. The Tony Award-winning director managed to create a freshly transporting experience with each show, despite multiple iterations of the narrative – including the 1994 animated film and the 2019 Beyoncé-led live-action film. All things considered, The Lion King is an artistic triumph for Taymor, and the theatre world at large.
Taymor seamlessly transforms the narrative of Simba as he completes his “circle of life” from a carefree cub, loss of purpose and hope, to the realization of his destiny, into a theatrical masterclass. The musical is characterized by impressive puppetry, highly mobile scenery, surprisingly expressive masks, and graceful movement.
It’d be hard to keep your jaws closed due to awe as the entire cast parades down the aisle during the opening “Circle of Life” number. The scenery is pure eye candy – with the entire PrideLands community of birds, antelopes, rhinos, elephants, and giraffes strutting onstage. Later on, your jaws might drop for a different reason as the musical takes a drastic turn with the sinister scenery of “Be Prepared.”
With this in mind, it would be outright misleading to assume that the appeal of The Lion King is only associated with its exhibition or catchy lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Elton John. Its relentless success can only be attributed to the ingenious coming-of-age narrative and it’s moral significance.