By Kendra Hill
Disney’s The Lion King at the Broadway at the Eccles is spectacular! I have only praises for this show. The play brings depth to the story and the characters that you don’t get from watching the movie. While it stays very faithful to the movie and the original screenplay, there are additional songs and dialogue that add a new dimension to the story. This is a great opportunity to see it presented this way on the stage, and I highly recommend you going to get tickets NOW if you don’t have them yet!
If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it is the Hamlet of the African Savannah. The king (of the jungle) is killed by his evil brother, who is then crowned king. The young prince knows of his uncle’s treachery, and struggles with the knowledge. Simba (Hamlet) eventually becomes king, but not before he goes through harrowing trials.
The actors are all top notch. The children who played Young Simba and Young Nala had so much energy and enjoyed being on stage. I have seen shows where children get bored halfway through the performance, or become distracted. That was not an issue here. They both were adorable and did a wonderful job.
Gerald Ramsey (Mufasa) and Sophia Stephens (Sarabi) brought great heart to the performance. I will admit I was worried I would miss James Earl Jones’ deep voice, but Ransey was amazing! He was a wonderful father, and I really felt a connection to his character and the love he had for Simba.
I loved watching the adult Nala (Dashaun Young) and Simba (Nia Holloway) and was particularly impressed with their voices. When Young first comes onstage, he only has a couple of lines to sing, but he definitely ends Act 1 on a wonderful note (haha, see what I did there?) and really makes you excited to see the rest of the show after intermission. Also, when Holloway and the lionesses sang their song “Shadowland” it was very powerful and made me really feel ‘woman power.’ (I may or may not have pumped my fist and told my husband, ‘that is how you do it.’) Good job women! You rock!
Zazu (a red-billed hornbill who serves the king) was played and puppeted by Drew Hirshfield. This character is lots of fun, and much more comical than in the movie. It was very enjoyable to watch and listen to him, and the puppet was just as much a character as the actor controlling it.
One couldn’t help but loathe Scar (played by Mark Campbell) as he plots and wreaks havoc on Pride Rock. Prideful and murderous, Campbell makes you want to hate him.
The three wicked hyenas (Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Keith Bennett, Robbie Swift) were the perfect trio, and played homage to the Disney movie.
Pumbaa and Timon were a great jovial pair who really brought a lighthearted, fun aspect to the show that really helped juxtapose the wasteland that had become Pride Rock after the death of Mufasa. Pumbaa played by Ben Lupitz, and Timon, while usually played by Nick Cordileone was played by standby actor Tony Freeman. The puppets for these two were amazing! And the actors did a wonderful job not only in performing their characters, but in using their puppets.
While all of the actors in this production are absolutely incredible, there is one in particular that really stood out to me and wowed me with her performance. This was Buyi Zama as Rafiki (a mandrill who plays a Shaman-like character.) She has an amazing voice, and really devoted herself to the character. She had a great sense of comedy, but also had a great feeling of authority as a wise woman and storyteller.
While there were many amazing aspects, one thing that stands out in particular are the amazing costumes and puppets. The actors were able to control many different parts of their costumes, from heads, eye movement, limbs, mouths, and more. They are all very detailed, and really match the movement of the animals they represent. Tony Award-winning Julie Taymor is the director, costume designer, mask/puppet do-designer, and more. Her vision really comes through, and wow, is it amazing.
Most of the sets appear quite simple, but often move, or have unseen elements that come out later in the scene. They make great use of the sets to tell the story, and give it additional movement. They also use many of the curtains as pieces to help draw the eye, and create more interest, which I really enjoyed.
The music draws you in and really helps you feel the emotion of the characters and the story. A lot of African rhythms and language are also used and really drive the amazing beats. I loved every single song, crafted by Tony-award winning artists Tim Rice and Elton John.
One of my favorite parts of the whole show was the dancing, choreographed by Tony-award winning Garth Fagan. It was INCREDIBLE! I also loved that they not only used it during dance breaks, or songs, but when characters would feel intense emotion they were often express it through dance. I especially admired the use of traditional African dance. Not only was it amazing to watch and experience, it gave The Lion King one more layer of authenticity.
Probably the best part of the whole play for me was the culture that blazed throughout the whole show. Beautiful colors engulf you in every scene, the makeup and costumes have amazing designs and patterns, and the dance (as mentioned before) has a great tribal feel. African languages are even used throughout the show, alongside English. These are things that we don’t often get to witness in Utah, and it was amazing. I was truly transported to the other side of the world.
One word of warning, if you have never been to the Eccles Theater before, do not search The Eccles Theater on Broadway on your phone GPS, but search for The Eccles Theater. We were sadly late because that location is an office about a mile away from the actual theater. We missed the opening number (which I bet was so amazing) and also spoke with others in the lobby who had the same thing happen to them. The address to the theater is 131 Main Street in Salt Lake City. Again, even though it is advertised as Broadway at the Eccles, DO NOT use that title to navigate on your GPS or phone.
This show is completely appropriate for children, but because curtain is at 8:00 PM, I’d advise bringing older children, tweens and up, so they can stay awake, enjoy the show, and not get fussy or whiny. There is PLENTY to enjoy!
Disney’s The Lion King at the Eccles Theater
131 Main Street, Salt Lake City (801) 355-5502
March 23 – April 16, 2017. Curtain times vary, so check the website.
Week 1: THUR March 23 at 7:30PM, FRI March 24 at 8:00PM, SAT March 25 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN March 26 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM
Week 2: TUES March 28 at 7:30PM, WED March 29 at 7:30PM, THUR March 30 at 2:00PM & 7:30PM, FRI March 31 at 8:00PM,SAT April 1 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN April 2 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM
Week 3: TUES April 4 at 7:30PM,WED, April 5 at 7:30PM, THUR, April 6 at 7:30PM,FRI, April 7 at 8:00PM,SAT, April 8 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM,SUN, April 9 at 1:00PM & 6:30PM
TUES, April 11 at 7:30PM,WED April 12 at 7:30PM,THUR April 13 at 7:30PM, FRI April 14 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM,SAT April 15 at 2:00PM & 8:00PM, SUN April 16 at 1:00PM
Tickets start at $35.00