The all too familiar beginning chant of The Lion King starts and the audience is immediately taken back to the first time they heard the iconic song: “NAAAAnts ingonyama.”
Orange County, a national hub for Disney lovers, has brought back the internationally-renowned musical The Lion King at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The musical, directed by Tony Award winner Julie Taymor, follows the story the ‘royal family’ of the African Serengeti; lions Mufasa and Sarabi bring a son, Simba, into the world as the heir to the animal kingdom. Based loosely on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King tells a story of loss, betrayal and reclaiming one’s rightful place of honor in the face of resistance. The performance is completed with the beautiful onstage imagery of the natural world and the music of Elton John and Tim Rice.
Performing at the Segerstrom for the entire month of October — excluding Mondays — the show’s run continues to sell out with a full house every night.
The show opened with beautiful backdrops of Pride Rock. Different species of animals took the stage and the show’s famous sunrise scene began.
The performers, whether they were playing the role of Simba or a passing-by gazelle, were captivating. Every single movement was carefully studied and looks near perfect to how that animal would move in its natural habitat. A cheetah running across the stage especially caught the eye, as its hind legs moved in artful motion while in mid-air. It was as if every single actor went out to the rural lands of Africa to study the exact movements and behaviors of these animals. The amount of effort put into each character was phenomenal and the audience definitely noticed.
The beauty of the show was captured in the physicality of the actors: the dancing, the singing and the use of the entire body. Whether on all fours, hunched over or standing up straight, this musical is different as it has no real human characters. This created the need to become an animal on stage, which required a lot more skill than just playing a human role.
The staging, although beautifully placed, seemed chaotic and disorganized at times. This was due to the huge ensemble prancing all over in their outlandish animal costumes. However, it did capture the essence of the natural world and its patternless nature.
The ever-changing scenes of nature throughout the show gave us a break from our busy, technology-consumed lives and helps us to appreciate the simple beauties of a sky full of stars or a jungle filled with green leaves. The raw scenery not only captured the beauties of the natural world, it also brought the themes of the musical together. To watch a production with no hint of technology and just natural talent was a well-needed break.
As there are some foreign languages sung throughout the production, it forces the audience to reach further than just the realm of English into their hearts and souls for complete understanding. Without the use of deeper interpretation through emotions the play would simply be a confusing garble of mixed languages and animals.
The show is for every audience imaginable. From kids who have been dragged by their young parents, but have no idea what The Lion King is, to fanatics who’ve watched the movie hundreds of times. The ability to fall in love with the musical is undoubtedly easy.
As I walked out of the Segerstrom, I read the words, “Dancing is poetry with arms and legs,” plastered on a poster. That’s when I understood the beauty that could only be captured by the captivating physicality of The Lion King. Take a breather from this fast paced world and step into the serenity of the animal kingdom.