Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ Returns to OKC for a Third Reign
Find your place at Civic Center Music Hall.
“The Lion King” is back in Oklahoma City, and even 20 years after it began its North American tour, the most successful musical of all time still reigns supreme.
As OKC Broadway completes its 2021-2022 COVID-19 comeback season, the local presenter of nationally touring Broadway shows has brought the royal king of Disney’s song-and-dance show back to OKC for his third reign here, with performances continuing through May 29.
Seen by more than 100 million people around the world, the long-running adaptation of the beloved 1994 animated film previously made hugely popular stops at OKC in 2017 and 2009.
Since the musical’s last airing at OKC, the film has been rebooted into a realistically computer-rendered 2019 blockbuster, and the Disney+ debut has given kids and fans plenty of scope to catch both films, sequels and TV shows. This big cat must get closer to nine lives, but with no signs of slowing down as younger generations experience the most successful entertainment franchise of all time.
‘Circle of Life’ continues to move forward on the musical’s 20th anniversary tour
Winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, The Mouse House’s Shakespearean tale of cat-like royalty once again packed the Civic Center for the May 12 performance of that race.
Fortunately, “The Lion King” never fails to move audiences, even after multiple viewings. It was at least the third time I had seen the musical, and I was still captivated when the mandrill Rafiki (the fiery Gugwana Diamini) called “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba (roughly translated from Zulu as “There comes a lion” ) to start the rolling “Circle of Life”.
A quarter century after the musical bowed to Broadway, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the crowd-pleasing opening number sends out a veritable menagerie – including a huge elephant and its adorable baby – parade down the aisles to the stage, where towering giraffes, leaping antelopes and soaring birds surround the Pride Rock of lions.
Although the performers seemed to spend less time lingering among the audience than on previous tours – perhaps because of the coronavirus – the magic of these moments lives up to the hype. The strength of the opener alone justifies seeing “The Lion King” on stage at least once.
Under the unparalleled direction and costume design of Julie Taymor, who won Tonys for both, the show uses clever combinations of costumes, headdresses, puppets, masks, kites, stilts and even shadow play to portray the majestic African creatures in surprisingly innovative and dazzling detail. fashion.
Even the grass, water and sky come alive in inventive ways throughout the show. The piano roll that cleverly helps recreate the story’s tragic wildebeest stampede remains one of the shrewdest bits of theatrical magic I’ve seen, and sets like the elephant graveyard effectively transport audiences into the Pridelands and beyond.
My two elementary age daughters were enchanted by the cub puppet’s tiny fidgety paws and fascinated by the way the cheetah performer operated his full get-up. Although their teenage brother was less thrilled than his younger siblings, he still loved the familiar story of family, betrayal and bravery.
The musical adds African influences to a familiar plot
The stage adaptation stays true to Disney’s beloved 1994 animated film with its Shakespearean plot, universal themes, and Oscar-winning music.
But Taymor wasn’t afraid to give the musical a radical new look and put his distinctive mark on the storytelling, and it’s impossible to overstate how the addition of authentic African cultural motifs enhanced the extravagance. of song and dance celebrated by critics and trade.
The ingenious costumes, masks and puppets are clearly inspired by African folk art, and the beautiful and bold designs by Taymor and puppeteer Michael Curry have become iconic for good reason.
Six indigenous African languages are sung and spoken during the musical, and Tony winner Garth Fagan was inspired by the creatures of the Serengeti when he designed the show’s choreography. “The Lioness Hunt,” in which the sleek but deadly Predators cleanly slaughter an antelope, remains a highlight, the dancers proving themselves with startling grace even as they leap across the stage in capes and headdresses.
To accompany the songs included in the film, cinematic songwriters Elton John and Tim Rice composed additional music for the stage, which was complemented by African-inspired melodies created by Lebo M., Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and Hans Zimmer, who won an Oscar for the film’s score.
From “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Be Prepared” to “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” and “Hakuna Matata”, the tunes brought back from the 1994 hit have lost none of their narrative impact. Plus, hearing the familiar songs expertly performed live by an orchestra conducted by James Dodgson adds to their power.
But some of the numbers written for the musical have become my personal favorites, including Mufasa’s anthem “They Live in You”, Nala’s ode “Shadowland”, and Simba’s lament “Endless Night”.
Set includes artists with ties to Oklahoma
Considering this is a Disney show with such an impressive lineage, it’s only natural that the North American tour, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary in April, features a cast with musical plays fit for royalty. and queens.
Former Lion statesman Mufasa continues to be played with wonderful warmth and regal presence by Gerald Ramsey, who featured in the part when the tour last visited OKC in 2017. Nick Cordileone also returns in as Timon the meerkat, paired with John E. Brady’s Pumbaa the warthog. to give the show’s comedic duo impeccable timing.
Spencer Plachy is pleasantly sinister – complete with a creepy manic laugh – as Mufasa’s backstabbing brother, Scar. Forest VanDyke literally shuts down the show with his squeaky laugh as the silly but creepy Banzai, one of three hyenas – along with shrewd Shenzi (Martina Sykes) and unhinged Ed (Robbie Swift) – who partner with Scar.
Jürgen Hooper showed top-notch talents as a puppeteer and comedian playing Zazu, the picky, high-flying hornbill who is Mufasa’s best adviser.
Although he doesn’t bow until the end of the first act, Darian Sanders has princely charms as Simba, and he’s a good match for Kayla Cyphers as his royal love, Nala. Jaylen Lyndon Hunter and Scarlett London Diviney portray the pair as Cub Scouts with undeniable talent and energy.
Three artists on the tour have ties to OKC: ensemble singers Isaiah Bailey and Christin Byrdsong both attended Oklahoma City University, and ensemble dancer Layla Brent danced as a trainee then member of the studio company of Oklahoma City Ballet.
“The Lion King” will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Broadway this fall, but the show is in no danger of losing its crown as a leader in musical theatre, especially for family audiences.
Disney’s “The Lion King”
When: Until May 29.
Or: Civic Center Music Room, 201 N Walker.
Tickets and information:https://www.okcbroadway.com.