The Lion king Roars Into The Dr. Phillips Center-The Orlando Times
Photo: Joan Marcus
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORLANDO - Based off Disney’s 1994 classic, it was no surprise that when one of Broadway’s longest running shows came to the Dr. Phillips Center anticipation over attending the performance was high.
Directed by Julie Taymor, the show opens with the classic number “Circle of Life”. The opening was one of the most amazing live sequences I have ever seen. Starting with Rafiki (Buyi Zama) singing the opening notes, a variety of actors with magnificent animal costumes entered the stage and walked through the audience. As the drumming beat and sweet lyrics filled the theater, the sight of actors on stilts dressed as giraffes, a group of actors portraying a gigantic elephant, a captivating actress portraying a cheetah, and other animals bowing before the presentation of baby Simba was breathtaking. In order to appreciate it you must arrive on time, as anyone who is late will not be allowed into the theatre until the song is finished.
The plot of the show closely followed the original story by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) was a powerful and commanding leader yet a patient father as he tried to raise his son Simba (Joziyah Jean-Felix alt. Ramon Reed) to be the next king. The wildebeest stampede, which was amazingly choreographed, and the death that followed was just as traumatizing as when I saw it as a child.
While the first act follows Simba and Nala (Danielle W. Jalade alt. Glorida Manning) as children, the second act begins as adult Simba (Gerald Caesar) is getting accustomed to life with his new friends Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), who’s characters along with Zazu (Greg Jackson) brought the most laughs.
When Simba’s scheming, yet charming, uncle Scar (Mark Campbell) takes over the pride lands with the help of his hyena goons Shenzi (Martina Sykes), Banzai (Keith Bennett), and Ed (Robbie Swift), a grown Nala (Nia Holloway) decides to leave the pride in search for a solution. She ends up finding Simba and with the help of Rafiki encourages him to return to Pride Rock. The climax builds as Simba defeats Scar, relieving his mother Sarabi (Kimber Sprawl) and the other lionesses of his cruel leadership, and takes over as the rightful King.
Some of the stand out performances were “Be Prepared” in which Scar and the hyenas convolute their plan, “Shadowland” where Nala explains why she must leave, and “He Lives In You” (Reprise) which was a breathtaking rendition of when Simba is reminded by Rafiki that he carries on his father’s legacy.
Additionally, the costumes, masks, and make-up displayed during the performance were masterfully designed. Julie Taymor, Michael Curry, and Michael Ward encompassed the beauty of Africa’s rich culture and channeled it into the looks of the actors.
The show would not have been as spectacular if not for the work of the touring orchestra, conducted by James Dodgson. In addition to the live orchestra, on each side of the theatre sat percussionists that used maracas, drums, and other instruments to absorb the audience in the story and create realistic sound effects.
What gives this show extra pizzazz is that despite its notoriety as an animated film it still stands alone in excellence as a musical. Rather than constantly comparing the two productions, the play added depth to the character’s emotions via new songs, in addition to Elton John and Tim Rice’s timeless melodies, and fantastical set-pieces that brought the story to life.
The Lion King continues its reign at the Dr. Phillips Center until March 11. Get tickets or information on upcoming shows by visiting www.drphillipscenter.org.