Lion King Feeling the Love at the Benedum in Pittsburgh
Good News Reporter, Joanne Quinn-Smith
Hakuna matata: Means no worries and you truly will leave the theater with no worries after this presentation. There is almost too much going on with performers coming through the aisles and drummers in the balcony boxes. What an event of sound and sight and experience.
What a mix of visual and audio entertainment Director Julie Taymor has put together. My five year old was mesmerized even though it was a long show and she wanted to go to sleep she just could not. I asked her the best part and she told me it was the young Simba and Nala played by Jordan Hall and Nya Cymone Carter, what wonderful delightful young performers. She loved Simba in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”
Personally I hate it when the bad guy gets less applause than the
One of the two strongest performances was given by Steven Taylor as Mufasa Simba's father, Sarabi's husband and the former King of the Pride Lands; a righteous, wise, and kindhearted leader, but admirably powerful and courageous as well. Idolized by his son, with whom he shared a strong bond, Mufasa was envied immensely during his lifetime by his wicked younger brother Scar, who furiously conspired against his older brother in an attempt to end his reign and seize the throne. To the devastation of a young Simba, Mufasa was violently trampled to death by a massive stampede of wildebeests arranged by Scar while attempting to save his son's life. This lead to Scar's tyrannical kingship over Pride Rock after he convinced Simba he was responsible for his father’s death and that he should run away from home.
But my favorite character and the strongest performer of the Lion King is Rafiki played by Bron Liniwe Mikhize. Rafiki is an erect walking mandrill so can use many props like gourds that other characters cannot. What a breath of fresh air, talent, energy and symbolism. During the musical Rafiki sings a nonsense chant: "Asante sana, squash banana, wewe nugu, mimi hapana." This is a Swahili playground rhyme which translates to "Thank you very much (squash banana), you're a baboon and I'm not!" Like "hakuna matata" (no worries), the chant was heard by the original filmmakers on their research trip to Kenya.
Rafiki performs shamanistic services for the lions of Pride Rock so his chanting just fits in.
The costuming is amazing as many of the animals portrayed in the production are actors in costume using extra tools to move their costumes. For example, the giraffes are portrayed by actors carefully walking on stilts. For principal characters such as Mufasa and Scar, the costumes feature mechanical headpieces thatconical Asian hat, sedge hat, rice hat, or paddy hats who skillfully flew the birds on stage and through the audience at the end of long sticks, simply a symphony of motion in my opinion.
Seats are still available for Disney’s Tony Award-winning The
Lion King, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and
PNC Broadway Across America at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. The
show runs through Sept. 29; times vary; $65-$115; 412/456-4800, trustarts.org
But whatever time you attend you will leave humming either “Circle of Life” or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”