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‘Lion King’ comes full circle

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By Elizabeth Hjelvik

I have been to a few musicals (“Wicked,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables”) and each time, I have enjoyed the story depicted on stage and through music — and have been impressed. 

When I learned that the “Lion King” was coming to Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque, I was skeptical at first. 

The whole concept of actors playing animals characters just seemed far fetched. 

However, I also used to think that there was no way that I’d enjoy a musical and now I’m hooked, so I decided to attend an evening showing of the “Lion King” with an open mind. 

My mind was blown by the end of the show. Given all of the productions I have seen, “Lion King” is by far the most majestic, colorful and successful show I’ve seen.

Not to mention, the stage production followed fairly closely the original Disney animated movie.

As the musical began, two musicians placed high on either side of the stage, play a drum beat while the red curtain with African shapes slowly rises. 

The orchestra started to play “Circle of Life” as Rafiki sang and called the animals. At first, animal characters entered from stage right and left. 

One actor carried a carousel-type of contraption to depict birds flying through the air.

Other actors were in animal costumes as well as giant, hollow puppets.

Their choreography on the stage represented the movement of a particular animal. Suddenly, the people all around me began turning around and when I looked to my side, I saw more actors walking from the back of the theatre, down both aisles and onto the stage. 

Rhinos, giraffes, zebras, gazelles and a huge elephant walked by. My jaw dropped and all around me, there was applause. I realized at that moment that the animals were life-size. 

I directed my eyes back to the stage, where a large prop was rolled out. 

As it twirled, I realized it was Pride Rock — and walking up the side of Pride Rock was King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, followed by Rafiki. 

As they reached the top, a small (prop) cub was raised, all of the animals bowed and the song ended. Between the color, music, dancing and costumes, I was in complete and total awe.

The musical is separated into two acts with all the songs from the “Lion King” and one or two songs from the “Lion King 2” movie included. 

For the most part, the stage production stayed true to the story of the childhood classic. 

The actors who played King Mufasa, Scar, Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa and the three hyenas Sarabi, Shenzi and Banzai sounded just like the actors who provided their voice talents in the animated movie. 

One big difference between the animated movie and stage production was the much higher energy level of the animals on stage and the depth of color, which made the story a lot more enjoyable to watch.  

 In fact, the day after my viewing of the “Lion King” stage production, I watched the animated version and there was no comparison.