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‘Lion King’ Brings Savannah to the Eccles (review)

Adam Fondren
George S. And Dolores Dore’ Eccles Theater Febuary 25, 2017. Adam Fondren for Daily Utah Chronicle.

With jaw-dropping staging and phenomenal talent, “The Lion King” saw a dazzling and successful opening weekend at the Eccles Theater.

The musical is an adaption of the 1994 film by the same name and has been viewed by millions all over the world. It has successfully been running on Broadway since 1997 and on tours both nationally and internationally.

The North American Touring Production of “The Lion King” brilliantly portrays Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical. Director, Julie Taymor leads her cast in a high energy and technical depiction of this famous story.

Over 25 species of bird, fish, insect and animal are portrayed in this show and the costuming of “The Lion King” is arguably unlike any another Broadway play. The endless array of costumes and props are different in every scene, making the African Savanna almost tangible along with well coordinated staging, lighting and costumes. The creative team of Richard Hudson behind set design, Julie Taymor’s costume design, Donald Holder’s brilliant lighting, and Michael Curry and Julie Taymor’s creation and design of the 232 puppets in the show create a believable savanna setting. It takes 114 people to prepare for each performance and that work pays off in stunning ways. The sheer volume of onstage actors portraying animals with such grace and nobility is moving and enhances the beautiful story and music of “The Lion King.”

The iconic opening of “Circle of Life” highlights not only the amount of onstage mastery and props, but Buyi Zama as Rafiki stuns with her impressively strong and consistent vocals.

“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” was another number that displayed seemingly every prop and actor together on stage in an eye-popping act. 18 foot tall giraffes that bend down into the audience, mobile ostriches and a collection of a wide variety of savannah animals culminated in an unbelievable performance.

Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa is the perfect blend of raw strength as King of Prideland and loving gentleness as the father to Simba. His performance of “They Live In You,” is moving and gripping.

Mark Campbell as Scar, on the other hand, brings a wonderfully successful villain. He is bitterly disliked and portrays his antagonist role with convincing smugness and powerful vocals.

Ramsey and Campbell had believable chemistry and onstage animosity as brotherly enemies. Their lion-esque behavior was candid and they inhibited their costumes well, facing off with their large masks at every confrontation. These masks hung directly above or in front of the face of its wearer throughout the entire play and were used by all lion characters.

The roles of Simba and Nala, usually played by Dashaun Young and Nia Holloway, were played by understudies Jallen Harris and Thembelihle Cele for this performance. Both Harris and Cele played their characters well, with particular praise to Harris. His rendition of “Endless Night” was one of the best of the evening. Harris had rapt energy and astounding vocals throughout the performance, portraying the evolution of growth of Simba.

Other noteable actors were Nick Cordileone as Timon, Ben Lipitz as Pumbaa and Drew Hirshfield as Zazu. All three provided genuine depictions of the beloved characters and provided authentic comic relief.

It was evident by the end of the night why this is the world’s number one musical.

The North American Touring Production of “The Lion King” will be playing at the Eccles Theater March 23- April 16. Ticket information can be found online at

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    Pamela NuttallMar 30, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Spacticular in every way EXCEPT for the SOUND. Could NOT HEAR WHAT was