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'Lion King' at the Kennedy Center

The last time that The Lion King was at the Kennedy Center, in 2008, this break-though, industry-altering musical was just over a decade old. Its director, Julie Taymor, seemed to have the world at her feet: as the Washington Post noted that year, her new Spider-Man musical was "targeted for sometime in 2009 and already much-anticipated." After some disastrous stunt-related accidents, though, the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have insisted on an "artistic divorce" from Taymor, hoping to turn her Broadway musical into a Las Vegas-style special-effects extravaganza, with an eye towards possibly recovering their massive investment eventually.

Somewhere in there is a metaphor for the decline of the American musical, but another touring production of The Lion King is at the Kennedy Center Opera House, having opened last month and, judging by the crowded house last night, showing no signs of slowing down. It is a handsome and colorful show, but not surprisingly it has all the drama and appeal of a Disney movie intended for younger children. Miss Ionarts spent the evening teetering between alarm (at the "scary puppets" moving through the aisles) and delight. Adults all around me appeared just as enthralled, but for anyone who likes their entertainment a little more sophisticated, be prepared for a long night in the theater.

Other Articles:

Jessica Goldstein, ‘The Lion King,’ views from inside the touring production at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, July 12, 2014)

Nelson Pressley, ‘The Lion King,’ exuberant as ever, takes pride of place at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, June 22, 2014)

---, A Roaring Success and Its Effects on Broadway (Washington Post, June 27, 2008)
Among the cast, Tshidi Manye stood out for her ability to make the antics of Rafiki, the monkey soothsayer, so endearing, L. Steven Taylor made a noble Mufasa, and Jelani Remy's pop tenor was pretty as Simba. Comic relief came in dependable, even routine form from Andrew Gorell as the bird majordomo, Zazu, and the goofy Timon and Puumba of Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz. What makes the show memorable, though, is not the saccharine score and book (Elton John and Tim Rice, with contributions from many others) but the puppetry that brings the panoply of jungle animals to life. Taymor's experimentation with puppetry derived from her study of Bunraku theater in Japan, after undergraduate work in mythology and folklore at Oberlin. She has brought the same kind of magic to her opera productions, most notably the Magic Flute for the Metropolitan Opera. Here it may not add up to much, but it is beautiful to behold.

This production continues through August 17 in the Kennedy Center Opera House.


bronzino said...

But is the Kennedy Center the appropriate venue for 'unsophisticated entertainment' and a 'saccharine score'? Doesn't KC have a higher mission than just to entertain the masses? I remember when a performance at the KC meant something special. Do you think that the new KC president will instigate an upgrade to the quality of KC fare?

Anonymous said...

I sometimes like to call the Kennedy Center the "National Dinner Theater" for its penchant for musicals and "Shear Madness".