“The Lion King” at the Bushnell – the Concept Stuns You

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By Karen Isaacs

 Almost the entire world has seen The Lion King either the film/dvd or the musical. Those with young children have probably seen the dvd multiple times. The 1994 movie and the 1997 Tony award winning musical are favorites, though admittedly I had seen neither.

The touring production is at the Bushnell in Hartford through August 19.

Foremost is the overall production concept and execution. Director Julie Taymor had a concept for how to portray the animals on stage that was creative and inventive. Her concept was spectacularly executed by the various craftsman involved. Taymor was also designer of the costumes and masks. Richard Hudson did the costumes and Donald Holder the lighting.

The animals are all actors. In some cases (such as the giraffes and elephants) you do not see them for they are encased in the costumes which are life size. This is where pictures can better describe than words. In other cases the actors are part of the costume which sometimes is almost puppet like. Actors make the bird swirl. It is not a case of the actors manipulating puppets but seemingly becoming the animals.

The costumes again suggest the animals while not trying to make them realistic. Imagination – by the audience is at work here. Yet you almost believe these are real animals.

Taymor also had a choreographer (Garth Fagan) who carried the vision forth with dances that are compelling.

But what of the rest of the show?

The performances are overall very good. You can’t help but enjoy Nick Cordileone as Timon and Greg Jackson as Zazu, two of the more comic characters. But you will applaud the entire company who work very hard. Jared Dixon is the older Simba (the young Simba rotates between Joziyah Jean-Felix and Salahedin Safi, who I saw), Nia Holloway as Nala, Mark Campbell as the villain Scar and Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa.

But, you have to remember that this was a movie and book (some changes have been made) geared for children. The plot is rather simple with some references to Hamlet: a father (the King) is murdered by his brother (Scar) who takes over and ruins the country before the son (Simba) returns.

The plot itself could be told in a short paragraph; it is the presentation of that plot – the songs, dances and concepts that turn it into a delightful production that will entrance children of all ages, as they say.

The music combines the songs from the film by Elton John and Tim Rice with additional songs by them and others.

One complaint. I missed a good two-thirds of the dialogue and lyrics. It wasn’t that the sound system was too loud or soft, it was more that it was muddied. At first, I simple thought that one of the performers wasn’t enunciating properly, but I soon realized that it was impacting almost everyone.

For tickets visit Bushnell or call 860-987-5900.

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