A Delightful Version of The Lion King
On Friday, August 20, I had the pleasure of watching Roberta Weiner’s Prana production of The Lion King, Jr. It was the last day of camp, and this was the dress rehearsal, so much excitement was in the air. Rafiki (Maia Cerrito-Stingo) opened the show by singing at the crest of a hill, welcoming us all to the African Savannah, with the full cast in attendance. The keynote song, “The Circle of Life,” was truly awe inspiring. Soon to appear was Scar (Saachi Chandrakant,) artfully played as the jealous, scheming brother who is out to do in the king. Young Simba (May Shade) of course trusts his uncle Scar, and scampers about, thrilled to think that he will be king when he grows up. Zazu (Dune Halstead) is played well as a bird chaperone, both comic and self-important. In an amazing scene, teenage girls in grass skirts with headpieces suggesting the grasslands of Africa dance in rhythm as King Mufasa frolics with Young Simba through the grass. Mufasa (Michael Crandall-McBride) projects well as he explains that all things are connected in the circle of life. This theme, as reinforced by the fabulous music, is what probably propelled this Disney animated classic into a Broadway show and worldwide phenomenon.
The lionesses are enchanting as they dance. Those with long enough hair have braided it to the side to suggest the beautiful animals they portray. Zazu projects quite well as she and Young Simba sing the rollicking “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.” The whole cast takes part, with adorable little lion cubs and brightly colored birds. Despite being warned/tempted by Scar, Simba and Young Nala (Ahalya Seelam) venture past where they are told it is safe to go. There they encounter the evil poachers, the hyenas. However, these hyenas are goofy and funny, and Ed (Victoria Edwards) got some good laughs at this performance. Scar then reveals his evil plan, and sings magnificently to “Be Prepared.” Mufasa comes in to save Simba and Nala, singing well a new Disney song written for this junior version. The lionesses sing reverently. In the next scene, Simba does a good job looking terrified as the antelope stampede behind him. Mufasa of course comes along to save him, but Scar, conveying the greed and ambition of every vengeful second son, kills him. Scar then scares Simba into thinking his father’s death was his fault, and orders him to run far, far away and never come back.
The comic relief comes when the wise cracking and hilarious Timon (Teo Perez) and Pumba (Nicky DiPippo) appear. They befriend the Older Simba (Sadie Bigelow.) Teo Perez in particular shows great comic timing as they teach Simba to adopt the philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.” Teo also has a strong singing voice as they sing for Simba to just “have no worries for the rest of your days.” There are some great laughs as Pumbaa stoically endures endless jokes about gas and Timon appears, playing a ukulele and singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
Back to the grim reality of Pride Rock. The hyenas angrily tell Scar there is no food left, and he blames the lionesses. But they will not be silenced. In another lovely new song, the Older Nala ( Lexie Bowie) sings beautifully about remembering your pride. We are then treated to some more of the knee slapping antics of Timon and Pumbaa. Suddenly, Nala, forced to look farther and farther afield for food, encounters Simba. The two are at first shocked, then delighted, to see each other again. There is convincing chemistry between them as they wonderfully sing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Nala then challenges Simba to go back and rescue Pride Rock. The wise Rafiki then sings in a strong, clear voice about how Mufasa lives on in Simba. After the thrilling conclusion, (a good reviewer never reveals the ending) Simba is able to tell Scar to run away and never come back. The entire cast appears for a stirring reprise of “The Circle of Life,” and the audience gets one more view of the tremendous variety of costumes, from zebras to elephants. It was a knockout performance, as always.