Faith D’Isa ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Marketing Officer
Unlike your typical theatre kid who grew up with Broadway a jaunt away in New York City her entire life, I never had the pleasure of being able to say that I’d witnessed the spectacle that is Julie Taymor’s The Lion King on stage. Moving to Boston, it was one of the last things I thought I’d be able to experience minutes away. Broadway in Boston righted this wrong for me, bringing adults and children alike into a fantastical world unlike anything I’d experienced in live theatre.
The Lion King follows the story of the classic Disney film, focusing on a young Simba (alternated between Jordan A. Hall and Tré Jones) and his relationship with his father, Mufasa (L. Steven Taylor), uncle Scar (Patrick R. Brown), young friend Nala (alternated between Mya Cymone Carter and Tyrah Skye Odoms) and the throne he is to take over the pridelands. The story shifts when Mufasa is killed in a supposed accident that is Simba’s fault, causing him to exile himself from his home, his people thinking him dead.
The big focus in this show is on the production elements. The costuming, co-designed by Taymor and Michael Curry, is subtle enough that you’re still capable of experiencing the human qualities that the actors bring to these beloved characters, but also clever enough that the children in the audience were absolutely mesmerized. A true standout was the costume worn by Drew Hirshfield as Zazu; though he was complemented with a puppet, between the costume and acting done by Hirshfield, the bird quality of the overbearing guardian came across in a shining way. Pumba’s costume, which also had some puppeteering qualities, was another big hit in many ways–the costume itself weighs 45 pounds. But actor Ben Lipitz made it seem like no big feat, bringing true life and personality to the warthog.
The massive (200 to be exact) amounts of impressive puppets in the show was certainly no walk in the park. However, Nick Cordileone, who portrayed meerkat Timone, had potentially one of the most difficult jobs. Working the 15 pound puppet with his entire body seems like it would tire Cordileone out–but he managed to keep up with Lipitz and Jelani Remy, who portrays an older Simba, without missing a beat. At first, the fact that Cordileone’s body was painted entirely green was extraordinarily distracting. However, the change in scenery from the more neutral and red tones to a greener place made much more sense, allowing the actor to disappear behind the puppet once more.
Though the production elements are impressive, the actors do not get lost on stage. A true stand-out was Patrick R. Brown as Scar, somehow managing to bring the estranged lion to life. Brown managed to both terrify the audience and give them laughs; his comedic timing was unmatched by anyone else in the cast, and yet, somehow, you felt bad for laughing at him. Brown, from the start of the show, managed to give Scar an element of sympathy with his acting, and yet somehow still made you turn on him and hate him by the end of the show.
A compliment also must be given to the relationship between the children and adults who portrayed the same roles in the performance. It’s difficult, to see a character grow up half way through, and have to accept a new actor in the child’s place, but Remy and Nia Holloway, who portrayed the older Nala, followed the cues given to them by their younger counterparts, making it easy to believe and even easier to love. The chemistry between Holloway and Remy was undeniable–and the Elton John classic, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” didn’t hurt, either.
Between the artful sets, skilled actors, beautiful costumes, makeup and puppets, and the pure, childlike joy that comes with a night at The Lion King, this show, presented by Broadway in Boston, is not one to be missed. The Lion King runs at the Boston Opera House through October 12th.