‘Lion King’ makes a triumphant return

By: Andrew Koch ~Editor-in-Chief~

Disney and Broadway fans alike are in for a treat as “The Lion King” came roaring back to Cincinnati this month at the Aronoff Center.

The show’s plot, based on the 1994 animated film of the same name (and itself an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”), is certainly familiar to movie- and theater-goers. Simba (young: JJ Batteast/Tre’ Jones; adult: Jelani Remy), the crowned prince of an animal kingdom, flees his homeland after his father is murdered by Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar (Patrick R. Brown). Having been blamed for his father’s death, Simba takes refugee in the wilderness to forget his problems before returning to confront Scar and reclaim his seat on the throne after seeing the ghost of his father, the fallen king.

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Lion King’ is a Tony-Award winning sensation, with six under its belt in 1998.

“The Lion King” holds the record for the highest-grossing show of all time, and for good reason. This musical marvels at every turn as a technical, musical and performative wonder. From the opening scene, in which actors expertly dressed as various animals parade down the aisles to “The Circle of Life,” to Simba’s final confrontation with Scar atop a spinning Pride Rock, the audience is never left wanting for entertainment.

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Broadway’s highest-grossing musical returns to Aronoff Center with a roar.

Remy commands the stage as a grown Simba, giving a moving performance in “Endless Night” and deftly tracing Simba’s development from carefree “Hakuna Matata” champion to a king-to-be resolved to fulfill his responsibilities to his people. Both L. Steven Taylor (Mufasa) and Nia Holloway (Nala) also give powerful performances, as does a truly impressive supporting cast of characters and ensemble members. Brown’s performance as Scar, while not the strongest vocally, skillfully conveys the calculating villain and drives the play’s drama. The technical aspects of the show were perhaps even more impressive than the performances.

The show employs lavish costumes for each of the animals. Each lion character also wore an elaborate headdress that acted almost as a character in itself, diving to cover the actor’s face when characters would confront each other.

Richard Hudson’s scene design, especially during the stampede and Simba’s conversation with his father, amazes while making incredibly efficient use of the stage. The score, a collaboration between pop legend Elton John and Broadway veteran Tim Rice, is memorable to a fault, featuring a host of songs deeply embedded in the Disney canon of music guaranteed to remain in the viewer’s head for days to come. Even the songs less familiar to fans of the original film dazzle, accompanied by carefully coordinated dancers in beautiful costumes.

“The Lion King” runs through April 26 at the Aronoff Center, and Xavier’s Student Activities Council (SAC) will be taking a group of students to see the show on April 19. Tickets for all of the performances (including the one sponsored by SAC) are sold out, though rush seating may be available on the night of individual performances.

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