Thursday, April 26, 2018
Stage

Review: 'Disney's The Lion King' a marvel of design and engineering

TAMPA — Somehow, I got this far in life without having seen any version of The Lion King, either the 1994 Disney movie or the enormously popular musical that followed.

Though I wrote about it as the season's jewel at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts with nearly a monthlong run, I was thinking about a pricey stone, a rock on someone's hand that meant little to me. The Lion King was a kids movie, and the musical, Tony or no, promised to be an extravaganza of costuming, puppetry and props — a 3-D movie on the stage.

The musical, directed by Julie Taymor and with music by Elton John, has run 18 years on Broadway and grossed more than $1 billion. The touring version sold out Sunday's matinee at the Straz. Parents brought kids. The show is extremely family-friendly, awash in color and replete with life-sized giraffes, birds, antelope, zebras and more.

Even an elephant on the scale of War Horse (well, an elephant) lumbers from the orchestra seats to the stage. Characters rush up the aisles, or in one instance stroll, stopping to clap and sing. It is as if the entire cast and crew are trying to grab you by the lapels and insist that you watch.

The result did not so much disprove my initial skepticism as to render it irrelevant, replacing a jaded sigh with something more forgiving. I came to that conclusion by the sheer force of imagination and technical proficiency in this show and the effect it all seemed to have on the audience.

This is, of course, a coming of age story for Simba the lion cub, a cute little kitten played by B.J. Covington on Sunday. His father, Mufasa, would have remained king of the Pride Lands of Africa, were it not for the ambitions of Mufasa's brother, Scar, to be king himself.

Scar is more Machiavellian than ferocious, more acid-tongued than alarming, but deadly just the same. It's odd to see a lion played by Gore Vidal, but Patrick R. Brown pulls off the role with malicious finesse, bumping off the noble Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) in a buffalo stampede.

Scar rules over his demoralized kingdom backed by trio of hyenas, whose ghostly movements and cackling are actually quite creepy (split a best-supporting award between Keith Bennett, Tiffany Denise Hobbs and Robbie Swift). Simba, meanwhile, who has escaped the stampede, is rescued by an endearing warthog and his sidekick meerkat. He adopts their vegetarian diet and lifestyle, characterized in the song Hakuna Matata, a Swahili phrase which means, "There are no worries."

It's pretty clear where this is going. It's been clear all along. Good prevails, honor is restored, and karma comes to the wicked (and paybacks are hell). At times my attention wandered in the second act, but snapped back in line when I thought about hundreds of children in the audience who were not moving a muscle. ("So, these kids are taking in every moment and you can't?" said the voice in my head.)

Indeed, there is much to admire. Ben Lipitz as the warthog Pumbaa and Nick Cordileone as the meerkat Timon supply a steady stream of Saturday-morning-cartoonish banter and corny puns, as does Tony Freeman as Zazu, the king's bird-puppet adviser.

But the real accomplishment here is the sum of parts that make up The Lion King. It's the movement, the dance, lavish costumes and ingenious props. It's the lighting, the set that can turn a savannah into an elephant graveyard into a starry night sky. All of those things rest on the foundation of a solid story, however thinly told. Music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice underscore a theme Mufasa explains to his son: "We are all connected in the great Circle of Life."

I left the Straz no longer a skeptic, if not a true believer. Who is to say a playwright or a production must make their point by character development, depth and adult-sized drama if that is not what the audience wants? The crowd leapt to their feet as I went to my car to beat the crowd, happy that I had finally seen The Lion King.

Hakuna matata.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Jobsite Theater wants to challenge audiences with an adaptation of ‘1984’

Jobsite Theater wants to challenge audiences with an adaptation of ‘1984’

TAMPANow is as good a time as any, since there is no great time to take a deep dark look into the apocalypse of humanity.But history rewards those brave enough to try, from Nostradamus to George Orwell, who are looking more and more like the same bre...
Published: 04/25/18
Performances, songwriting get ‘Waitress’ from serviceable to filling — plus, there’s actually pie

Performances, songwriting get ‘Waitress’ from serviceable to filling — plus, there’s actually pie

TAMPA — A lonely and changeable sky illuminates the top of the stage through most of Waitress, running this week at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The neon lettering of Joe’s Diner reflects days and nights that don...
Published: 04/25/18
Jobsite cues up ‘1984,’ ‘50 Shades’ parody’s Danielle Trzcinski premieres ‘Little Black Dress’

Jobsite cues up ‘1984,’ ‘50 Shades’ parody’s Danielle Trzcinski premieres ‘Little Black Dress’

MINISTRY OF JOBSITE: 1984When selecting an adaptation for George Orwell’s 1984 (there have been a few of them), Jobsite Theater had to strike the most controversial one off the list. That version by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan ran for 125 perfor...
Published: 04/25/18
Review: American Stage hits ‘The Producers’ out of the park

Review: American Stage hits ‘The Producers’ out of the park

ST. PETERSBURG — Without question, Mel Brooks’ The Producers carved a more indelible mark than most of the musicals in the entire genre of throwaway musicals it parodied.The creator of Get Smart and Blazing Saddles not only co-wrote the adaptation of...
Published: 04/23/18
The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Florida Orchestra puts another exclamation point on its 50th season with Verdi’s Requiem, this weekend’s concert series, a major presentation of an iconic work. Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem debuted in 1874 but took on a new layer of signif...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

ST. PETERSBURG — In the coming season, Freefall Theatre is rolling out a world premiere, a different take on Christmas, a sharp comedy and a recent work by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage. The theme for the 2018-2019 season, "A Brighter Tomorrow," color...
Published: 04/19/18
Desi Oakley savors pie making in ‘Waitress,’ orchestra does Verdi’s Requiem

Desi Oakley savors pie making in ‘Waitress,’ orchestra does Verdi’s Requiem

HEAD WAITRESS: DESI OAKLEYThe blue collar mother who drives the plot of Waitress never thought she could win a pie-making contest, let alone start a business."She doesn’t even have the capacity to understand that she could do this," said Desi Oakley,...
Published: 04/18/18
American Stage sets the table for a splashy park musical ‘The Producers’

American Stage sets the table for a splashy park musical ‘The Producers’

ST. PETERSBURG ­— Think early evening, daylight saving version. The earth turning away, light fading in Demens Landing Park — everywhere except the stage, which is trying its best to resurrect midday. "It looks like New York City at nigh...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Brooksville’s Live Oak Theatre presents ‘ReUnKnighted,’ a medieval misadventure

Brooksville’s Live Oak Theatre presents ‘ReUnKnighted,’ a medieval misadventure

BROOKSVILLE — How about a story about two knights who gain their knighthood, lose it, then gain it back, only to lose it again?That was the concept Kyle Marra pitched nearly three years ago to Randi Olsen, founder and creative director for the Live O...
Published: 04/17/18
Bilingual ‘In the Time of the Butterflies’ shines a light on brutal regime

Bilingual ‘In the Time of the Butterflies’ shines a light on brutal regime

TAMPA — Tampa made its cigars with indispensable help from Cuban immigrants. Today, 22 percent of the population is of Hispanic origin, as defined by the U.S. Census. The Tampa Bay area has increasingly and proudly defined itself as a thriving perfor...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/18/18