Theatre Review: “The Lion King” @ SHN Orpheum Theatre, 11/08/12

The Lion King – what else is there to say about this show that hasn’t been said before? It opened on Broadway fifteen years ago on October 15, 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Fifteen years… millions of audience members, thousands of reviews, and still last night’s Wednesday evening performance in San Francisco was sold-out. Well played, Disney. Well played.

Since opening, it’s changed theatres on Broadway (from New Amsterdam Theatre to the Minskoff Theatre), opened on the West End and Las Vegas, and there has been multiple national/world tours. There has been seven cast albums in seven different languages (most recently the 2011 Spanish cast). In April 2012, it was reported that The Lion King is the highest grossing musical of all time: $853.8 million. It is currently one of the highest grossing musicals on Broadway each week — easily making the million dollar club. The Book of Mormon is its current rival for top box office grosses.

So, how was the show last night? After all of these years, is it still worth it to see it?

My answer: yes and no.

If you’ve never seen The Lion King, then I recommend getting a ticket for the San Francisco production (unless you plan to see it in New York City).

It’s based off one of my favorite movies of all time. The music, characters and story shaped my childhood. And after all these years, I still love it. (If you need a detailed review of the show, then check out my review of the Las Vegas production.)

The touring production has some obvious limitations in regards to the set and costume design. In the opening scene, while the animals are parading in, you are literally awestruck at the sight of the beautifully designed costumes (created by the now infamous and talented Julie Taymor), but because the stage is not raked (on an angle), the stage picture looks incredibly cramped and not as beautiful as I remember when I saw it in Las Vegas. The adaptation of the set for the tour was well-done, but when you have seen what Disney’s money can create in a theatre that The Lion King calls “home”, it wasn’t as magical.

The performances, by all of the leads, were great — no real stand-outs, or ground-breaking performances besides Rafiki (played by the hysterical Buyi Zama). Everyone was solid. The real stand-out performance was the ensemble. Their vocals, dancing and support they brought to the show was stunning!! One of my favorite numbers in the show, “He Lives in You” was fantastic; it gave me goose bumps.

All that said, I still felt the show was a bit tired last night. It was a Wednesday night (even though it was a sold-out and pretty enthusiastic crowd) and I thought the cast was phoning it in a bit. Maybe, it was just me because I was super tired, but most times theatre reinvigorates and energizes me, but The Lion King didn’t do either. It was still enjoyable, but since I know every line in the show, I couldn’t help be a bit bored. The five year-old sitting in front of me was loving every second of it (until about the middle of the second act when it was clearly past her bed time). And in general, the audience loved it; they leapt to their feet to give the cast a standing ovation at the beginning of the bows.

It’s very clear why it’s been running so long!

It’s a magical night of theatre. If you’ve seen it, I wouldn’t necessarily run to grab tickets, but if you are bringing a little one — it will be a magical night for them! The show is a little long, so if their (or your) bedtime is early, you might want to try a matinee.

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