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Sunday, January 31, 2010
"The Lion King" In Las Vegas Is A Must See.
I suspect that many tourists to Las Vegas would not even consider going to what they think is a show for kids. After all, isn't this just a play based on a Disney movie, and besides that, isn't the play just a second rate shortened version of the Broadway production that has cut corners to bring the show to a casino?
If that is what they think, they couldn't be more wrong. "Disney's The Lion King", which has eight performances weekly at the incredible Mandalay Bay, is the only version of the show which is the full stage production of the original Broadway show in the world. From the complex stage which constantly reshapes itself to the extravagant, beautiful costumes, to the elaborate puppets created by original Lion King director Julie Traynor (who also had a hand in the costume designs as well), and especially the top notch cast, The Lion King is one of the most elaborate productions, and certainly the most elaborate play to ever hit "The Entertainment Capital Of The World". Perhaps most significant is the fact that the show is performed in it's entirety, unlike most plays in Vegas, which are usually shortened so that casino guests don't spend too much time away from the slot machines.
I had heard that this was a great show, but I wasn't sure exactly what it would be like. I feared that it would be an abstract kind of performance based on the few photos I had seen of costumes and the people on stage. I wasn't sure if I could get my mind around the actors working with puppets in their performances. Boy, was I wrong.
This is a show that children will certainly enjoy, but I think adults will enjoy even more. I know I was absolutely floored, not only by the costumes, staging, special effects, lighting, and a full live orchestra (almost unheard of in Vegas these days), but found the story itself to be beautiful, touching, moving (yes, even though I knew he was going to be slain, I still got choked up when Mufasa, father of the young Simba, died at the hands of his brother, the villian Scar played on this night by understudy Rod Thomas, who if the chance should ever arise, could easily take on this role as a permanent star). From the opening of the show, when a parade of imaginative animal puppets march down the aisles to the stage (better be sat by showtime or you miss out on an incredible opening number), including one huge elephant, to the bright happy finale, this is one incredible show.
Throughout the show, from one scene to the next, I was dazzled by what I saw. Of course without a story worth telling, that would mean nothing. And without top notch performances by the actors and dancers the production would seem shallow. Luckily, Disney has hired an incredible troupe of some of the finest stage performers they could find.
I could talk about the entire cast one by one because they were all exceptional. However, there are two performances that really need to be spoken about.
The absolute best performance of the show comes from Buyi Zama as Rafiki. It is an absolutely brilliant portrayal of the monkey with the strange language voiced in the movie by Robert Guillaume (TV's Benson). This character in the play seems to be more of an ancient type of native African seer or mother of the earth rather than a monkey, and she guides the show and Simba in his journey to the circle of life. Her performance brings not only fits of laughter at times, but scenes that are totally moving, touching and definitely uplifting. Ms. Zama's perfomance actually sent shivers up my spine and is to be commended.
The part of young Simba is played, depending on the performance by two very young actors, D. Asante' Ervin and Aubrey Omari Joseph. While I'm sure they are both excellent performers (why else would they be cast?) on this night it was Ervin who portrayed young Simba, which is a very crucial role since he is a part of most of the scenes in the first act. All I could think while watching him sing, dance, and act was, "Wow! Does this kid have talent or what?" I was totally captivated by Ervin, at no time thinking of him as just a child actor, but was totally convinced that he was a young lion growing up and learning about life. If he sticks with it, Ervin is a name we will hear about years from now in whatever career he chooses.
Special mention should be noted for the performers in the roles of Timon, Pumbaa, and the three lead hyenas. It must be difficult to control the puppets so that the audience is focusing on them, at the same time putting in spot-on performances both vocally and maneuverability as the characters in the film. Their voices were so true to the film that at first I thought it was a recorded soundtrack until I paid attention to them and not the puppets and realized it was really them doing the speaking.
By the way, the movements of the ensemble and the puppeteers are so precise and amazing in how they replicate the way their animals move, that it takes you a second to not think at times that their are actual animals on the stage. They are that good.
The new songs that have been added to the play expand on the storyline and fit perfectly with the show. The song "He Lives In You" is both beautiful and elegant.
I have to hand it to Julie Traynor. All of the awards and accolades she received for this production were well deserved. I actually came to really like what she did after watching "Across The Universe", a film that features many of the great songs by The Beatles. I love that film and have watched it many times. If you haven't seen it, you really should buy or rent it and see how her creative juices flow. The behind the scenes extras on the DVD really highlights her skills as a director and creator.
If you are planning a trip to Vegas, there are so many choices you can make if you are planning to see a show. There are so many Cirque du Soleil shows in town you would almost think they own the city. There are comedians, singers, and other plays, including a chopped down version of Phantom Of The Opera at the Venetian. They are all heavily promoted and are good in their own way.
Disney's The Lion King however, is simply put, SPECTACULAR! The production was nothing like I thought it would be, but so much more than I could have ever imagined it to be. If you are coming to visit our modest little town, (ha!), or if you live here, you owe it to yourself to see the best show I have ever seen (and I've lived in Vegas for 20 years now) in Las Vegas.
The Lion King performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday thru Thursday and at 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The theater is dark on Friday. Tickets start at around 65 dollars. The theater at Mandalay Bay is a terrific venue and there is not a bad seat in the house. You can purchase your tickets online at the Mandalay Bay website by clicking here.
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