Total Rating: 
November 13, 1997
open run (as of September 2014)
New York
New York
Walt Disney Company
Theater Type: 
New Amsterdam Theater (moved to Minskoff Theater)
Theater Address: 
West 42nd Street
(212) 307-4747
Running Time: 
2 hrs, 45 min
Book: Roger Allers & Irene Mecchi; Music & Lyrics: Elton John & Tim Rice, w/Lebo M., Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor & Hans Zimmer.
Julie Taymor

 Everything you've heard about the first five minutes of The Lion King is true. When a golden sun rises on Richard Hudson's orange set, when birds on poles flitter about the audience's heads, when lion-masked actors prowl and wooden antelopes lope across the stage, when giant papier-mache'-style elephants galumph down the aisle -- all this to the unforgettable voice of Tsidii Le Loka, her face painted up as an African mask -- the only rational response is to cry a little and wonder at the glories of life and art. But being New Yorkers, at the sixth minute we ask ourselves, Where does a show go when its opening minutes are perfect? The answer, alas, is mostly down-down-down in act one; up down and up in the better second act.

The problem is not that Disney has dumbed-down another 19th Century classic for the masses. After all, The Lion Kingis based on a pop-culture animated cartoon. What rankles is that the high artistry that informs so much of the show must stand hoof-to-hoof with a book that, with every other one-liner, insults the audience's intelligence. Timon and Pumbaa offer delightful comic relief, but what are these jungle animals doing making puns based on titles of TV shows?

Much of the traditional-sounding African music (by a quintet of composers, including Lebo M), augmenting the Elton John and Tim Rice film score, also thrills. However, these soul-stirring numbers often segue into poppish stuff that would be catchy under other circumstances, but here sound like a crude lowering of standards. This mix of dazzling greatness and purposefully low-tier rubbish frustrates all night, but to the last, director/designer Julie Taymor shows extraordinary imagination, in everything from a thrilling waterfall rescue (just a branch and rippling canvas) to an effect where a round piece of cloth vanishing into a hole in the stage somehow conveys the passing of years. Samuel E. Wright's proud, life-filled papa Mufasa almost singlehandedly holds the show's first hour together. After that, enough goes right again with The Lion King that one can -- at least when in the theater -- shrug off the flaws with a jaunty "Hakuna Matata" and join the circle of life.

John Vickery (Scar), Samuel E. Wright (Mufasa), Tracy Nicole Chapman (Shenzi), Kevin Cahoon (Ed), Scott Irby-Ranniar (Young Simba), Kajuana Shuford (Young Nala), etc.
Choreography: Garth Fagan; Set: Richard Hudson; Sound: Tony Meola; Costumes: Julie Taymor; Lighting: Donald Holder; Masks/Puppets: Taymor & Michael Curry; Casting: Jay Binder; Hair/Make-up: Michael Ward; Music Dir: Joseph Church; Orchestr: Robert Elhai, David Metzger & Bruce Fowler; Music Coord: Michael Keller; Choral Dir: Lebo M; PR: Boneau/Bryan-Brown.
1998 Drama Desk: Musical Feat Actress (Le Loka), Musical Dir (Taymor); Choreog: (Fagan), Musical Set (Hudson), Costumes (Taymor), Lighting (Holder), Sound (Meola), Puppets. 1998 Drama League: Achievement (Taymor). 1998 NYDC Circle: Musical. 1998 Outer CC: Musical Dir (Taymor), Musical Feat Actress (Le Loka), Choreog (Fagan), Set (Hudson), Costumes (Taymor), Lighting (Holder). 1998 Theater World: Debut (Casella). 1998 Tony: Musical, Dir Musical (Taymor), Choreog (Fagan), Set (Hudson), Costumes (Taymor), Lighting (Holder).
Other Critics: 
AISLE SAY David Spencer ? / NEW YORK John Simon + / NY PRESS Jonathan Kalb ! / TOTALTHEATER David Lefkowitz + Ellis Nassour ! / US 1 Simon Saltzman !
Cast recording released on Walt Disney Records, 1997
David Lefkowitz
Date Reviewed: 
November 1997