I’ll admit it. When my 13-year-old daughter, Robin, and I were tapped to review Disney’s The Lion King on behalf of RFM, I hadn’t planned to let on that we had seen the show at the Kennedy Center four years ago.
That was the Kennedy Center, after all. This was Richmond’s Landmark Theater, almost cozy in comparison. But Robin had said from day one that The Lion King was the one Broadway show that could amaze us over and over again. Her assessment was spot-on.
Furthermore, not only was the production in Richmond just as inspiring and breathtaking as the one in D.C., it was actually better this time around in some ways. And altogether different in others. Of course, a different cast will play to its own strengths, but this production was quite simply more entertaining overall. The characterizations and chemistry shone through at every turn, with every song, and with each clever quip. I was particularly impressed with young Simba and Nalla, without whom the audience would not have fallen so hopelessly in love with Africa during the first act. The relationship between Simba and his father, Mufasa, was touching and authentic. In the second act, sidekicks Timon and Pumba kept the audience chuckling at all the right times. “Shadowland” from grown-up Nalla, and “Endless Night” from Simba, almost moved me to tears and most definitely gave me chills. Yes, even on the African savannah.
From the chants of the shaman baboon Rafiki to the poignant life lessons revealed in “The Circle of Life,” all of the vocal performances filled the Landmark with awe. The modern dance, a fusion of grace and athleticism, was not only stunning, but it was also perfectly appropriate for all ages. As extremely talented as the cast of The Lion King is, audiences of all ages can’t help but be moved even further by the artistry and staging of this entertainment extravaganza. The entire savannah comes to life, literally, as dancers glide across the stage wearing grass-festooned headpieces for goodness sake. Prepare to be amazed by human-powered puppets: giraffes, panthers, antelopes, and birds, to name a few.
For young people, for seniors, and for everyone in between, The Lion King is a once-in-a-lifetime event, a peerless introduction to the excitement of live performance for even the unwitting fan of musical theater in your family. And for Broadway lovers, it truly is worth seeing again and again and again.
Experience Disney’s The Lion King at Landmark Theater now through March 11. Recommended for kids eight and up, because of the length of the show and the complexity of the plot, there’s nothing inappropriate about the subject matter or its presentation.
(Note: Many of us can’t swing this for the whole family. Make it a date with a spouse or friend. Or, sneak off with the one lucky child who’s just the right age and who will appreciate it most. The others will forgive you. Some day.)