From start to finish, the only word that can describe the theatrical production of The Lion King is “dazzling.” I vividly recall as a young child the first time I watched Disney's original film version, and how jealous I was of my cousin Melissa, whose parents bought her the soundtrack. I adored the landscapes, characters and music of the film, but still, with more than a decade between my childhood and when I found my seat in Popejoy Auditorium for Sunday's production of the theatrical version, I wasn't sure if this was the play for me. Oh, I was so wrong.
From the curtain rising on the Pride Lands to a heartrending arrangement of “The Circle of Life” while giraffes, elephants and birds in balletic flight came sailing down the aisles, I was absolutely enchanted. Had I known before going to the play that visionary Julie Taymor (whose film credits include Frida and who owns Emmy and Tony awards) directed and did costume design for the production, I would have expected nothing less. Yet, it is very apparent that everyone involved in the show is exemplar in their field—from the puppeteers to the makeup artists to the fight choreographers and the music orchestrators. What was so impressive about the show is that it seems every element is singular and beautifully thought out, designed and executed. The light and the set design are evocative marvels, planned down to a T; even the smallest motion of the human actors turned cheetahs, lions and hyenas is intentional, creating a masterful and transporting whole.
As we left the theater, my friend Sofya remarked, “I don't know that I've ever been so entertained in a theater.” And I have to agree.
It's a lengthy production—2 hour-plus acts with a 20 minute intermission—but it passes surprisingly, and quite sadly, fast. As we left the theater, my friend Sofya remarked, “I don't know that I've ever been so entertained in a theater.” And I have to agree. I was so stimulated by the beautiful and functional costuming, the elaborate, morphing sets and the music of my childhood that my mind never wandered from the plot—the story of one young would-be king's search for self, home and truth.
Transported for the full duration of the play, I realized that where I went wasn't so much the African savanna, but instead, back to my ever-excited and always enthralled childhood. That is rare magic. The cost of admission and the trip to UNM's Popejoy Auditorum are well worth it for the alchemy of this production that transforms a simple stage and an auditorium into a landscape of nostalgia, yes, but also wildly inspiring craft.