THE LION KING at Bass Concert Hall
The anticipation in the room was palpable as I waited for The Lion King to begin. Questions and enthusiastic comments from a cacophony of children of varying ages filled the space as the house lights went down and the curtain rose. It’s well known that The Lion King is a visual and auditory spectacle and the North American production currently touring Austin did not disappoint. I found myself a little verklempt during the well-known opening number, The circle of life. As a young teenager, The Lion King was the first professional play I ever attended, and now this production is the first professional play I’ve seen since the COVID-19 pandemic nearly crippled the theater world. The relevance of The circle of life right now brought tears to my eyes and filled my heart with pride. This pride in their collective work was also evident in the cast.
The well-known story of The Lion King traces what it means to be king and how jealousy and greed can affect not just the individual, but the group. This cohesive cast wrestled with these ideas through their personification of their animal characters, and did so with palpable joy.
Those unfamiliar with the stage version will be pleasantly surprised by the addition of several wonderful songs, including the opening number of Act II, One by one. This incredible vocal number originated on a 1995 album titled Rhythm of the Pride Lands and one of Disney’s famous shorts. The song, sung entirely in Zulu, is uplifting and an English translation of the lyrics adds even more meaning. “Hold on tight my people, Don’t get tired, Don’t lose your strength. We can see it, They wanted to hold us back. One by one, They won’t be able to…”
Smooth scene changes and the display of technical mastery were slightly undermined by a few moments of error. There were a few missed mic cues that meant the start of a few critical lines had been missed, including an entire line missed during the delightful I just can’t wait to be king. Additionally, there was a brief moment of audio feedback during the same song. These are mistakes that I’m sure will be corrected in future performances. It’s also worth noting that one or both tracking operators seemed to be struggling. As a fellow tracking operator, I know how hard the seemingly easy job can be, but there were several awkward moments where the main characters, such as Simba, were in the dark while the spotlight lingered. above their head or displayed on the lower half of their body rather than the top.
The entire cast and crew of this remarkable show are excellent, and many are worth noting individually. Jaylen Lyndon Hunter and Scarlett London Diviney who portray Young Simba and Young Nala respectfully bring the necessary joy and vigor to the roles and are clearly having fun bringing these characters to life. The roles of Scar and Mufasa were originally performed by Jeremy Irons and James Earl Jones, two iconic voices hard to match, but Spencer Plachy and Gerald Ramsey shook the theater wall with their mighty roars. The two percussionists visible at the side of the stage, Stefan Monssen and Reuven Weizberg, are also worth mentioning. They brought the music that is so central to the Lion King storytelling out of the orchestra pit and into view. I wish I had the space to credit each cast and crew member and their accomplishment as it is well deserved.
The Lion King runs until April 24, tickets are available online. While The Lion King isn’t a show that’s going out of style anytime soon, I still venture to call this production a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.
Thumbnail photo credit: Deen Van Meer