If there was a "Prize of the Century for Innovation, Imagination, and Costume Design," Julie Taymor, the director and designer of Disney's Broadway production, The Lion King, would win hands down. The extent of Taymor's contribution to The Lion King is so overwhelming, it eclipses almost all other aspects of this lively production. Where else can you find elephants, rhinos, a pride of lions, crocodiles, wildebeests, racing gazelle, antelopes sauntering down the aisles, giraffes onstage, and all types of colorfully-plumed birds flying about a theater?
The Lion Kingis not a traditional Broadway musical, but it's certainly a crowd pleaser. The show promises to be around well into the next century. Yet because there is so much spectacle and color, it's hard to connect with any one character -- whether it be The Lion King Mufasa (Samuel E. Wright), young Simba (Scott Irby-Ranniar), or the older Simba (Jason Raize). Though you want to boo him, the villain, Scar (played with all the right touches by John Vickery), almost walks off with the show. At least until the scene-stealing comic relief -- a hornbill named Zazu, a meerkat named Timon (played by Max Casella, who was Vinnie on Doogie Howser, MD), and a flatulent warthog named Pumbaa (Tom Alan Robbins) -- literally pushes him aside in Act Two.
Elton John and Tim Rice's score (five songs from the film; three written for the show) is surprisingly -- except for "Circle of Life," "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" -- overshadowed by Lebo M's exhilarating African tribal rhythms and chants.
The Lion King is now at the New Amsterdam Theater. It's not traditional Broadway, but it's hard not to get caught up in the grandeur and fun.