If You Go
Disney Presents “The Lion King”
- Dec. 2-Jan. 17
- Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago
That word, cliché as it might be, was what kept running through my head as I took in Broadway in Chicago’s staging of “The Lion King.” It is, in every sense of the word, awesome. From the moment the seemingly life-sized elephants and giraffes took the stage to the final all-cast reprise (it truly is a “Circle of Life”), I sat transfixed. And I couldn’t help but notice that even the youngest kids in the audience soaked up the spectacle as well.
The lion’s share of the credit goes to the costume and stage designers (Tony Award-winners Julie Taymor and Richard Hudson), who essentially transported the African savanna to a stage in downtown Chicago. Having recently been to East Africa, I had my doubts about the authenticity of a staged version, but found it a remarkable facsimile of what I experienced there – and gave me the urge to book another airline ticket.
I have to give kudos to the ensemble actors, who practically disappear into their animal counterparts, adopting non-human characteristics in an intangible way. As for the main cast, the young actors playing pre-pubescent Simba (Tre Jones) and Nala (Mikari Tarpley) stole my heart, and the pitch-perfect Patrick R. Brown as Scar masterfully toed the line between comic relief and villain. Despite some initial reservations, I was especially impressed with the actors who were tasked with puppetry – Nick Cordileone as Timon, in particular, managed to make me forget about the man behind the meerkat, as did Drew Hirshfield in his comic turn as civil servant-turned-manny Zazu (he also brings the only Garrett’s Popcorn joke you’ll ever need).
I was eleven years old when “The Lion King” hit the big screen, and the exceptional music of the stage version took me right back to that point in my life as a Jonathan Taylor Thomas fangirl (he played Young Simba, for the uninitiated). The Elton John/Tim Rice hits like “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” still sparkle, while additional songs such as “Chow Down” and “They Live in You” keep the plot moving along (but might be a good place for little ones who have seen the movie to take a bathroom break). And while some scenes of peril might be too much for the smallest audience members, the grins on the young faces around me – and on my own – went a long way toward assuring me that, even all these years later, audiences do still feel the love for “The Lion King.”