Never underestimate the power and influence of a Disney production. Las Vegas has always been considered “Broadway’s poorer cousin” and historically, The Strip has always had a revolving door policy when it comes to theater productions. Name it, we’ve played it (or tried it, is more like it) – there was Spamalot, Avenue Q, Mamma Mia!, Hairspray and more. And while some of them had a fairly “good run” here, most others barely had time for their costume changes before they had to call it a day.
Currently, the only ones running are Jersey Boys and Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular – and even this is “custom-made” for Vegas. Well, things might change with Disney’s The Lion King – playing at Mandalay Bay. It was possibly the most anticipated opening, when it replaced Mamma Mia! (which ran for about six years) a year ago. They might have hit on a good thing here with this production – because unlike the other Broadway productions that have come and gone – the audience here is far more reaching than anything else.
We went to see it on a Saturday, and let me tell you – the lobby was teeming with children, the parents looking harried as they hustled their young ones to their seats, all the while trying to avoid the hard-to-miss retail outlet selling Lion King – related merchandise. This scenario is both good and bad. Good because, really, the show is for the young (and young at heart). I’m sure the cast will agree that there is nothing like playing to a (very) full house of an adoring audience – and a sure bet that the jokes don’t fall flat. Bad because, well, the theater resembles a playschool. The big “but” however, is that the “good” more than outweighs the “bad,” because the minute the show starts, I swear, you can hear a pin drop. And the expressions on the children’s faces – really, quite priceless.
Disney being Disney, it doesn’t disappoint. From the get go, everyone in the audience is wowed – by the props, the costumes, the music, the whole she-bang. “Circle of Life” opens the production and rightly so, setting the scene for the rest of the story to unfold. I doubt that there isn’t anyone in the theater that hasn’t seen the animated film, though, no need to worry, if like me, you haven’t. Again, Disney being Disney, you’ll get the plot soon enough.
The show can quite simply be summed-up in one word: “wow.” And the cast – “Amazing.” Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the actors are bringing to life characters that originally appeared in an animated film. Although, some “characters” in the musical have a higher bar set for them – as “Scar” was voiced by Jeremy Irons; “Mufasa” by James Earl Jones and “Zazu” by Rowan Atkinson. That said, I think Thom Sesma, stole the show as “Scar.” He is both hateful, and yet, somehow, endearing – well, at least up until the final scene. Other notable mentions – Patrick Kerr as “Zazu” was as funny (and sarcastic) as can be; the young Simba and Nala were spot-on, as essentially, they were “kids playing kids;” although the young Nala (which I believe was played by Kaitlyn Conner-Alexis) has to be singled-out for being, just absolutely fantastic. Buti Mothamana who played “Mufasa” the day I saw the show somehow lacked the requisite “roar,” to play “The King of the Jungle.” Same goes for Jelani Remy’s “Simba;” more bark than actual bite. Kissy Simmons as “Nala” had her moments – some more worthy of mentioning than others, where at times, her voice seemed to be overshadowed by her dance movements. Buyi Zama’s “Rafiki” really has no comparison as this character was played by Robert Guillaume in the film. Lest I forget – the characters of “Timon,” played by Robbie Swift and “Pumba,” portrayed by Adam Kozlowski, were also great. Of course, it probably helped that their number, “Hakuna Matata” happends to be one of, if not the most recognizable song in the entire production.
It’s no surprise that The Lion King has won so many awards – whether it be Oscars for “Best Original Score” and “Best Original Song;” to its Golden Globe Awards for “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy,” among others; to its Tony Awards for “Best musical,” “Best Scenic Design for a Musical,” “Best Costume Design for a Musical,” and the list goes on.
Say what you will about this being a Disney production, The Lion King is not just for kids, though. Perhaps this is what they refer to as “The Magic of Disney,” – because it doesn’t matter how old you are – you could be five, or fifty, take my word for it, you’ll come out of the theater feeling like all is right with the world.
- Rachel M. Sugay
Disney’s The Lion King, Mandalay Bay. Show times are 7:30 p.m., Monday – Thursday; with added 4 and 8 p.m. show, Saturday
and Sunday. Tickets are $64, $86, $113.50 and $168.50 for the VIP Package which includes premium seating plus complimentary
souvenir program and show merchandise item.
*Make a night of it, “New York-style,” with the dinner and show package. Starting at $99, guests can enjoy a prix-fixe dinner
menu at one of three participating restaurants – RM Seafood, Aureole and Stripsteak. Package costs per person are $99 (with
the $64 ticket), $131 (with the $86 ticket) and $158.50 (with the $113.50 ticket). To make a reservation, call 1-877-632-7400.
On our cover – Derrick Williams, Buyi Zama and Marvette Williams in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from The Lion
King Las vegas. ©2010, Disney. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
The opening number “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King Las Vegas.
© 2009, Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.
Thom Sesma as “Scar” in The Lion King Las Vegas.
© 2009, Disney. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.