“Lion King” roars again at Detroit Opera House

By Daniel Skora

Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa Photo by Matthew Murphy

Disney’s “The Lion King” is back in town for a return engagement at the Detroit Opera House. The original production opened on Broadway in 1997 and won 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical. It’s currently still in production and is the third longest running show on Broadway right behind “Chicago” and “The Phantom of the Opera”. North American touring productions have been seen by audiences totally more than 17 million, so chances are that even the most infrequent theatergoer has seen the show. If you’re not one of those, or just want a refresher course on the musical based on Disney’s animated film, here’s a quick one sentence recap.

Nia Holoway as Nala This and remaining photos by Joan Marcus

The animals of the great African plain are called to Pride Rock by Rafiki, the mandrill (Buyi Zama) for the presentation of the newborn cub Simba (played alternately by BJ Covington, Devin Graves, and Jordan Williams) son of the lion king Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) and his mate Sarabi (Sophia Stephens), an event which is lamented by Scar (Mark Campbell), Mufasa’s brother, who, as next in line, had designs on becoming king himself, so as time passes, convinces the young Simba and his companion Nala (alternately played by Grier Burke, Meilani Cisneros, and Savanna Fleisher) to go to the forbidden elephant graveyard with the intention of having Simba killed by the hyenas Shenzi (Tiffany Denise Hobbs), Banzai (Keith Bennett), and Ed (Robbie Swift), though the plan fails when Mufasa, on notice from the hornbill Zazu (Drew Hirshfield), saves the two, forcing Scar into his second dastardly plan, a stampede of wildebeests with Simba as the target and who is again saved by Mufasa, who unfortunately dies in the process, causing his son, after Scar convinces him that he is responsible for his father’s death, to flee to a more verdant part of the country where he is befriended by Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), a flatulent

Daushaun Young as Simba

warthog, and Timon (Nick Cordileone), a wisecracking meerkat, and joins in their carefree existence for many years until one day Simba (now played by Dashaun Young), decides his life needs purpose, prompting him to return to his homeland where he discovers the land overrun by famine and the lions under Scar’s tyranny, so along with Nala (now played by Nia Hollaway), he engages his uncle and his bloodthirsty band of hyenas in a battle that will decide who will be the true Lion King.

This current production is as good as any of the other touring companies that have come before. The passion, the spectacle, the puppetry, the incredible costumes and masks, and the vibrant music and dynamic lyrics of Elton John and Tim Rice are all there as spectacular as you will remember them.

Buyi Zama as Rafiki

Some facts about the show: The elephant that enters down the aisle way is 13 ft. long, over 11 ft. high, and 9 ft. wide at the ears; the giraffes tower over everyone on stage at 18 ft. There are more than 200 puppets that appear in the show, including rod, shadow, and full-sized puppets. 18 trucks are needed to transport everything that’s needed for the production. Besides the one on Broadway, there are eight other productions currently running worldwide, in London, Hamburg, Tokyo, Madrid, Mexico City, Shanghai, Holland, and the North American National Tour currently in Detroit.

Nia Holoway and Ensemble

“The Lion King” is directed by Julie Taymor, who is also credited with costume design. Scenic design is by Richard Hudson, with Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. The show runs through February 26th. Tickets for this Broadway in Detroit presentation at the Detroit Opera House are on sale at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.TicketMaster.com  and Detroit Opera House and Fisher Theatre box offices. The Detroit Opera House is located at 1526 Broadway in Detroit.

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