There’s something magical about watching a giraffe walk across the stage.
In your head, you know it’s a person walking along on stilts – both leg and hand – with a large headpiece. You can even see the faint outline of the person. But all you have to do is blink, and a pair of giraffes are walking across the stage of Eccles Theater. Even on the animals where you can see more of the humans operating them – the upper body of the human rising above the cheetah, the people keeping the birds aloft, or the man standing behind Timon – it’s still wondrously easy to forget they’re there.
That kind of magic infuses all of the Broadway tour of “The Lion King,” which is taking over the stage at Eccles Theatre now through April 16. The award-winning show manages to bring the beloved Disney movie to heartwarming, visually stunning life, blending the human and the animal so effortlessly that it actually brought new depth to the story for me. I laughed, I cried, and I remembered why I fell in love with the story in the first place.
The plot of the stage version follows the plot of the movie, carefully adjusted and adapted for the stage. The biggest change is actually designed to bring more visual emphasis to Simba’s emotional journey, and utilizes the same canyon set from the most traumatic scene of both the movie and musical. Though it’s more stylized than literal, the show manages to communicate all of the scope and sensation of the movie both here and in other scenes. Your imagination fills in all the gaps, including a subtle but hilarious nod to Rafiki’s animal species.
The cast is excellent, with fantastic voices all around. Gerald Ramsay manages to be both kingly and wonderfully fatherly as Mufasa, while Mark Campbell is a treat as Scar. Tony Freeman and Ben Lipitz are pitch-perfect as Timon and Pumbaa, and Jordan Williams and Grier Burke are absolutely charming as young Simba and Nala. Buyi Zama is also hilarious as Rafiki, who brought all of the character’s animation and good humor to life though her role has been slightly condensed.
Drew Hirshfield, who played Zazu, was particularly fantastic. He was possibly the most obvious of the puppeteers, carrying the bird around in a suit, but he operated Zazu so effortlessly and animatedly that it was impossible not to watch the bird. Soon, you’re picturing the voice coming from the bird rather than the man, and even the scenes that hilariously acknowledge both bird and man isn’t enough to break the spell.
The music of Africa is highlighted in the stage version even more than in the movie, all of it absolutely beautiful. Some dance elements are incorporated as well, along with colors, language and costuming. It adds an additional layer of richness to the show, and doesn’t distract at all from the story.
Taken all together, it’s the experience of a lifetime.