It is no wonder why the Broadway adaptation of the classic Disney film is deemed #1

When the conductor doesn’t stop bobbing his head throughout the entire musical, you know it is good.

We were a couple of glasses of wine down, sitting in the red Jubilee Auditorium seats feeling like goddesses when Rafiki, played by Tshidi Manye and speaking Swahili at times during the performance, came on stage and the live orchestra starting playing “Circle of Life.”

The song barely began and my mother could not stop laughing. Could not hold it in. I wanted to do the same, but I was not quite as exuberant. I was sad I had to tell her to be quiet, but the Jubilee was packed.

She was laughing from sheer happiness and joy. Nearly three hours later, when the curtains closed for the last time, she said, “That was the best thing I have seen on the stage ever.” My mother grew up going to almost every ballet and musical performance held in Calgary. 

No wonder The Lion King musical is, according to TIME, “the biggest box office hit of any work in any medium of all time.”

Jelani Remy as “Simba” and the ensemble in “He Lives in You” from THE LION KING National Tour.

Photo taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of & licensed to Disney.I am from the generation that grew up watching and adoring classic animated Disney films – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella. Even though the age of technology has expanded excessively over the past 25 years, and the animation skills of the new Disney movies like Frozen and Tangled are amazing?, the classics will always have my love because they played a huge part of my childhood.

My mother as well since she had to endure the countless replaying of the movies as my two sisters and I gew up. Maybe a bit into our teen years too. Okay, and adulthood.

The Lion King graced Calgary from Aug. 11 to Sept. 6 at the Southern Jubilee Auditorium. On Aug. 13, my mother and I experienced the phenomenal talent, detail and expertise just a few rows from the stage. We were flabbergasted more than we thought we would ever be.

Besides the orchestra below the front of the stage doing all of the wonderful numbers from the movie and numerous additional songs, bongos and drums of all kinds were set up on each side on the stage to accentuate the aural experience.

The incredibly detailed costumes were creative beyond anything I could imagine.  Multicoloured, beautiful, huge and every animal you could think of being in the movie, including huge and baby elephants. Bike-like contraptions portrayed antelopes running across the stage (and turned into skeleton antelopes later on); the performers playing giraffes used stilts for their limbs and towered over everyone and everything on the stage.

Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog were puppets with actors (Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz) controlling them, though the tongue of Pumbaa was Lipitz’s arm, and the actor had hair sticking out in every direction, which fit the part perfectly.

The heads on some of the lions were rigged to come down and completely cover their faces during some scenes, and when the lions cried, ribbons were pulled out of their eyes. Tshidi Manye as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING National Tour.

Photo taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of & licensed to Disney. Some costumes had what looked like dozens of wooden pieces, multicoloured paint and designs. My mother specifically enjoyed Scar’s manbun, as she has a weird love for men with long hair.

And those actors! Tre’ Jones, who played young Simba, was just as sassy as he should have been, and though only 11-years-old, acted as though he was a seasoned performer. He never missed a step. So much talent and outstanding voices from such young kids!

Never before have I thought about Broadway as being in the same categories as movies in terms of acting and talent, because I haven’t really seen any plays before other than Beauty and the Beast (which was phenomenal, don’t get me wrong). But now I understand why some film actors work in theatre, and vice-versa. Everything is live. The concepts of how some scenes are taken from the movie and put onto the stage were incredibly innovative. Is it the technology that first-world countries have these days? I have probably just been in the dark this whole time.

For example, Mufasa climbing up the rock wall right before Scar sends him to his death –a ladder must have been attached to the rock wall prop, but there was no sign of it. The harnesses used when actors needed to fall, like when Scar fell to his death and young Simba hung onto a branch above an antelope stampede, were very well done.

The musical is approximately an hour longer than the film version, including numerous added songs and dialogue. Scar also decided he needed a queen lion to stand beside him in his new reign. This had him singing to Nala, trying to make her that queen, though she was not having it.

The added banter between Zazu and Mufasa was an entertaining touch as well, with Zazu losing his mind when Mufasa jokingly fires him. Some of the songs, however, the musical could have done without. “Chow Down” was an added song from the hyenas about Simba being edible which was fairly funny. Another one I didn’t need came from Mufasa after saving Simba and Nala from the hyenas called, “They live in you,” where Mufasa tells his son about the ancestors in the stars. I admit, I am biased because of not knowing every word like I do with the classics.

On the other hand, it stuck as close to the movie at times which I was grateful for. The hyena Shenzi, played by Tiffany Denise Hobbs, had a voice that sounded as close to Whoopi Goldberg’s as could be possible. Mufasa even had a deep, booming, powerful voice that properly shook the audience, courtesy of actor Gerald Ramsey, who is originally from the American Samoa, raised in Saudi Arabia and graduated from university in Hawaii.  

Patrick R. Brown as “Scar” and L. Steven Taylor as “Mufasa” face off in THE LION KING National Tour.

Photo taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of & licensed to Disney.The performance would also cater certain things to the audience and add some pop culture, which added an entertaining touch. Zazu slips in that Scar “bucked up,” which the adults laughed to. When Zazu would have sang, “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts,” to Scar in the film, he instead sang “Let it go,” from the recent Disney film Frozen. It sat well with the audience based on the amount of laughter and applause.

Throughout of all this incredible talent, entertainment and musical genius, the part that stuck with me the most was when the musical started up again after the intermission. Performers sang a new song called “One by One” as they walked through the aisles amidst the audience. Beyond the song being phenomenal, and there being beautiful birds swung from poles as if they were flying in time to the music, I spotted one of the one performers wink at a young child while walking down the aisle, singing. The child absolutely beamed. 

I imagine this particular performer as being one of the biggest fans of the movie, and being a part of this musical makes him fill up with joy everyday, being able to share it with those who share the same admiration.

But what do I know? I am just a millennial that has the odd ability to recite the movie line for line, and then was blessed with being able to see the musical adaptation and realize what all the frenzy was about.

Disney’s musical adaptation of The Lion King may have came and gone from Calgary after being here for a month, but I have no doubt it will be back. A month is not long enough for every Calgarian to witness the magic, as they should have if they have any love for Disney, music, theatre, love, laughter, or outstanding talent in general.

Thumbnail photo of The Tree of Life from The Lion King National Tour taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of & licensed to Disney. 

ahardstaff-gajda@cjournal.ca 

To contact the editor responsible for this story; itennant@mtroyal.ca