The Lion King @ Place des Arts – August 8 – September 4, 2011

Tony Award winning and one of the longest running musicals (14 years and counting) ever on Broadway.  The Lion King, based on the Disney animated film of the same name, is a production that comes with the highest of credentials and, as a result, high expectations.  I guarantee that no one will leave Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in Place des Arts disappointed.

Before coming to Montreal the show has gone around the globe entertaining people of all ages and cultures.  It has been loved wherever it has traveled.  For those of you out there who might doubt that a kids’ animated film makes for a good musical just have to watch the opening number of The Lion King when almost the entire cast takes the stage (some from the aisles on the parterre section of the theatre) in resplendent costumes of animals of the African grasslands.  An elephant, rhino, giraffes, zebras, a cheetah, different kinds of birds  including a dodo, and, of course, lions.  The set is awesome, the costumes are breathtaking, the actors move like the actual animals, and the voices music to your ears.

Starting with that first scene and for the next over two hours you will be swept up into the magical animal world of the African plains.  The story is one that even if you have not seen the movie most of us are familiar with.  A father (Mufasa) is training his son (Simba) to take over from him as leader, but the youngster is too eager and makes a mistake that proves costly.  Out of fear and misguidance from a jealous uncle (Scar), the youngster flees.  Once out on his own the youngster meets up with two new friends (Timon and Pumbaa) and they make a new family, the three of them.  After now growing up to be a strong, young man, who has been traveling the plains with his two compadres, runs into a now also grown up female friend (Nala) from his birthplace, who explains to him that he must come back and claim his rightful place in the community or they will all perish due to the poor leadership of his uncle.  What will the young, confused man choose to do?

Well-known director Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe) designed the sets, costumes, puppets, tinkered with the Elton John/Tim Rice penned music, and directed the original production on Broadway.  Since it has left her talented hands and traveled off Broadway it hasn’t suffered any.  Every effort has been maintained to keep the viewer immersed in the magical animal world.  From the brilliant mechanical masks that the actors wear that obscure their faces at different times during the production to the way that their movements replicate the animals’.  Every last detail is magical.  Very much in the tradition of Disney.

Making the audience part of the whole thing the actors often come out into the crowd, even onto the balconies and loges.  Up close and personal.  Interactive.  Bringing the magic to the people.  For the time you are in your seat you will feel like you are in Africa as the experience is that absorbing.

There have been some small changes from the film like Scar thinking of taking on Nala as his mate and the baboon (Rafiki) now being female rather than male, but the changes are minor and the musical stays true to the film.  The center of the production is still the wonderful music.  Songs like Circle of Life, Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel the Love Tonight are still heart-warming and soaring.  There are also some additional songs specially written for the stage production that fit in seamlessly.

There is still time to see The Lion King.  Gather up your entire family and spend time together seeing a magical production with a timeless story.

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