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Disney’s The Lion King Begins its Run at The Fabulous Fox With Eye-Popping Production

Disney’s The Lion King. Spencer Plachy (Scar) ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer

–by Sean Derrick

 

Disney’s The Lion King began its 2 1/2-week run at The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis this week with awe-inspiring views and near perfect choreography.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the family musical film captivated audiences young and old, and by now (thanks to streaming, rentals, and home purchases) everyone knows the story. Or, at least almost everyone (If you haven’t, why not? What’s wrong with you? I was an adult when this movie came out, and I have no kids and loved it, so what’s your excuse?). Anyway, I won’t rehash the plot, or try to explain the characters too much as they should be household names, especially if you had kids sometime in the last 30 years.

Going in I didn’t look at any reviews or videos of the production because I wanted to have my first viewing strike a chord with me, good or bad.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the latter as the right off the bat the booming voice of Rafiki (played by Gugwana Dlamini) pierced the crowd, almost demanding the attention of the crowd.  The depth and emotion was captivating and only heightened the 3D experience when most of the cast came down both the center-left and center-right aisles in full Regala.

Circle of Life. Photo by Brinkhoff-Mogenburg

Awe-inspiring puppetry and vibrant costumes filled the aisles heading to the stage. (My favorite was a 15 foot elephant whose legs each had an actor moving along in synch.) Everything from birds being “flown” on sticks to characters in giraffe costumes on stilts captured the imagination and didn’t let go.

The first act was filled with immersive scenery and elegant and vivid costumes that, in some, used innovative masks that moved from on top of the character’s head to in front of their face. This was done for Mufasa (played by Gerald Ramsey) and his brother Scar (portrayed by Spencer Plachy) to give them a more lifelike lion feel.

Gerald Ramsey (Mufasa) ©Disney. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Both Ramsey and Plachy were marvelous in their portrayals, as were Jordan Pendleton (who played young Simba), and Nick Cordileone (who played Timon, more on him in a second), as well as the previously mentioned Dlamini, all of whom stood out among an already stellar cast.

The visual interpretations were stellar, from the dancers with plots of tall prairie grass on their heads, to the streamers coming out of the eyes of the lion dancers, to the light enhanced puppet casting by shadows this production made the jungle come to life.

Disney’s The Lion King US North American Tour, Kayla Cyphers as Nala. ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer.

With most of the verbiage taken directly from the movie it is easy to get lost in trying to find out what they cut out and what they kept. But they were able to throw in a couple non-film jokes (I especially liked the clever Frozen reference sung by Zazu, er rather Jurgen Hooper, who has been an understudy since 2017 and now shining in the spotlight).

All the classic and beloved songs are in here, from “Circle of Life” to “Just Can’t Wait to be King”, to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, and yes, even “Hakuna Matata”. Timon and Pumbaa were spot on with the gas gags and comic relief (just like the movie), but it was hard not to focus on the Timba character as it was just as, or even more so entertaining to just watch Cordileone and his facial expressions.

Cordileone in real life has straight hair and for the performance he wears all green with a curly green wig and face paint. Coupled with the wig and his facial expressions and speech Cordileone kept reminding me of Joe Pesci ala My Cousin Vinny (a very sincere compliment as I love the actor).

Overall the imagery was mesmerizing, the songs were beautifully done, and the production was full of life from the beginning to the end. The crowd absolutely loved it and showed their appreciation for the hard work set forth on stage. It is a timeless classic that is certainly worth seeing and experiencing.

Disney’s The Lion King runs now through June 19 and can be purchased at the Fox box office or online HERE.

 

 

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