‘LION KING’ COMES TO OCPAC

COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS Simba (André Jackson) and Nala (Marja Harmon) tenderly hold each other during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” in the national tour of “The Lion King.” The popular production has finally reached Orange County.

COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS
Simba (André Jackson) and Nala (Marja Harmon) tenderly hold each other during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” in the national tour of “The Lion King.” The popular production has finally reached Orange County.

Many UCI Anteater students have worked for the almighty big Mouse at a certain Anaheim amusement park in various capacities, from peddling popcorn to being overly enthusiastic Jungle Cruise captains.

The latest employee, or “cast-member,” is UCI alumnus, Conwell Worthington, School of Drama, class of 2000. He is working as an assistant stage manager for the North American tour of “The Lion King.”

This musical has received tons of awards over the years, including the Tony for Best Musical in 1998. The show is still very fresh and timeless. Its original director, Julie Taymor, did not simply try to recreate the animated movie. She utilized African costumes, masks and puppets to bring out the “animal” in the “human,” creating a cast full of magical entities.

While masks project a singular attitude, they are usually placed above the face in this show, so that actors can use their own faces and bodies to tell the stories of their characters. Taymor also incorporated Bunraku puppetry and shadow puppetry to make the wide variety of animals, from the 18-foot exotic giraffes down to the 5-inch trick mouse. With a lively score from Elton John and a cast of multi-talented performers, these creatures made from wood and fabric come to life in the theater.

Worthington told me that his UCI experience really helped him prepare for his steady career in the arts. As an undergraduate student, he learned about drama from every perspective; he calls UCI “a well-balanced school.”

He fondly remembers working as a stage manager in UCI’s production of “The Castle of Perseverance,” where he was mentored by one of the Clair Trevor School of the Art’s most prestigious faculty members, Robert Cohen. After graduating from UCI, Worthington had an internship at the Pasadena Playhouse. He has since worked in a lot of local theatres, including South Coast Repertory, La Mirada Performing Arts Center and the Geffen Playhouse. Conwell told me that working on The Lion King has been the “best experience of [his] life so far.”

Most people think that “The Lion King’s” target audience is kids because of its Disney affiliation. I have found this to be not entirely true. In fact, the parent of a five-year-old boy, seated in the row behind me, had to take this son out of the theatre when his son started crying during the death/murder scene of Mufasa (spoiler alert).

During the show’s intermission, I had the opportunity to get some thoughts from Meena Hora, an audience member. She had studied at the prestigious Queen Mary school in old Delhi, India. She explained how the show is more than a children’s story; it’s actually a fairly faithful representation of English royalty, who were known in the times of King Henry VIII to murder their own siblings in order to attain the throne.

The show is outstanding in numerous regards. The story is brought to life with perfection, and was not just a copy of the blockbuster cartoon movie. The costumes and set designs were exquisite. The cast really made their characters come alive. The notable exception of this was the child actor portraying the young Simba lion cub in the first half of the show. His performance was a little strained; the energy from him seemed forced. He lacked the magnetism that some child stars can project seemingly effortlessly. However, the older Simba and all of the other cast members compensate for this small fault with their brilliant depictions of the animals along the African Savannah landscape.

“The Lion King” has a limited local run until June 13 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.