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Home / REVIEW: ‘Lion King’ roars to splendor in Des Moines
By Diana Nollen
DES MOINES -- Every aspect of Disney's "The Lion King" is touched by genius.
The costumes, the masks, the puppets, the choreography, the scenery, the special effects, the music, the characterizations. All transcend any piece of theater I've ever seen.
The magic is happening through Jan. 24 at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines. Tickets are scarce, so go to www.civiccenter.org to see if any seats are left, then pounce on them.
The grand hall was full Friday night and as a testament to the power of this production, not a peep was heard from the many children in attendance, except for their gleeful laughter at the antics of Timon and Pumbaa. The hilarious meerkat and warthog -- instantly recognizable from Disney's 1994 animated movie -- provide much-needed comic relief after the intensity of the hyena hunt and wildebeest stampede.
All the elements of the popular movie have been translated to live action and improved upon in ways you can't even imagine. Tears sprang to my eyes about two minutes into the show, when all the animals started streaming from the aisles to the stage to welcome lion cub Simba, the newborn heir to the throne of Pride Rock.
The animals are a feat of engineering and technical wizardry unlike any seen before on stage. All were born in the visionary mind of Julie Taymor, who not only directed the Tony Award-winning show but also designed the costumes and collaborated on the masks, puppets and additional music.
Especially amazing are the giraffes, gazelles, zebras, rhino and elephant that capture the very essence of the animals. Equally amazing is the way the actors embody the graceful gaits while manipulating the stilts, headdresses and body shells, making you soon forget you're seeing masks and puppet pieces.
Garth Fagan's genre-blurring choreography combines the abstract shapes of modern dance with the rhythms of tribal dance and the agility of ballet to create a dazzling, primal power that propels the show.
The story is as old as time, with the weak and evil lion Scar plotting a way to gain the animal kingdom's throne from his brother, the majestic and mighty Mufasa, and nephew Simba, who vexes him with his youthful exuberance. The conflict takes us to the African savanna, where singers and dancers move with utter grace clad in grasses; the dark and ominous elephant graveyard, populated by conniving, carnivorous hyenas and buzzards; the wildly colorful jungle; and the endless night sky.
The action is never sugar-coated. The sexy, strong lionesses stalk their prey for nourishment, Scar enacts his wicked plan, animals we come to love die, but none of it is macabre. And of course, good triumphs in the end, but not without sacrifice.
All this is fueled by the music of Elton John and Tim Rice, who gave us the soaring "Circle of Life," the bouncy "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and "Hakuna Matata," the romantic "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and the menacing "Be Prepared." Other music has been added, most notably in the African choir tradition of jubilant celebration.
All the actors are outstanding, but a special nod must go to Brent Harris as Scar, the embodiment of evil; Dionne Randolph as Mufasa, striking just the right balance between powerful ruler and compassionate parent; Tony Freeman as the hilarious bird Zazu, charged with keeping the inquisitive Simba out of harm's way; Phindile Mkhize as the all-knowing shaman Rafiki; Andre Jackson as the adult Simba and Marja Harmon as his lifelong friend and partner Nala.
"The Lion King" is that most rare kind of event that enthralls adults and builds lifelong memories for children.
FAST TAKEInformation: www.civiccenter.org
What: Disney's “The Lion King”
Where: Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines
When: Through Jan. 24; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $22.50 to $130 through the Civic Center Ticket Office, Ticketmaster outlets, 1-(800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com/venue/49258