‘The Lion King’ review: In must-see musical, the commitment to great artistry is everywhere

Rafiki (Gugwana Dlamini) opens “The Lion King” with the anthemic “The Circle of Life/Nants’ Ingonyama.”

Joan Marcus

The cover of the program for “The Lion King,” now playing at the Cadillac Palace Theater, boasts the claim that it is “The World’s #1 Musical,” and it is easy to understand why. Now 25 years since its inception, it checks all of the boxes for a quality production: a compelling story, beautiful music (by Elton John and Tim Rice) and excellent performers. But what earns it the top spot is the commitment to costumes, sets, makeup, props, and puppetry. As a first-time viewer of this show on stage, I have frankly never seen puppetry this exceptional outside of a puppet exhibition. 

Like the 1994 animated Disney masterpiece, the play opens with the song “The Circle of Life/Nants’ Ingonyama,” which won a Grammy for best arrangement, instrumentals and vocals. The music alone (sung exceptionally by Gugwana Dlamini as Rafiki) is enough to bring tears to your eyes, but when paired with puppets by Julie Taymor and director Michael Curry that mimic animals crossing the plains; giraffes, elephants, antelope, birds …. it’s breathtaking. The audience gasped audibly multiple times, amazed at the sheer artistry on display.

The show boasts gigantic, full-body, human-operated puppets, shadow puppets and pole puppets that work in harmony with the ingenious lighting, sets, costumes (the flower costumes felt phoned in, though) and makeup to create stunning optical illusions and theater magic. Watching a 5-year-old mouth agape at a giraffe towering over his head is worth the price of admission alone. 

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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