The glories of Julie Taymor’s “The Lion King” have been beautifully reflected in the new national tour that kicked off in Denver. Detail by detail, the new staging strives and successfully matches the original. It’s hard to imagine a more lustrous production, as Taymor’s designs and movement continue to delight with their creative zest.
Audience enthusiasm was apparent at every turn. The opening parade of fantastical animals was awe-inspiring as usual, with its dizzying gathering of wildlife creating a mounting dynamism. Singers in high balconies in the Buell Theater were employed to surprising effect.
Against a backdrop of visual marvels and technical magic, a strong cast sustained the human drama. The stress is always on the human faces for this story drawing on Shakespeare.
Alton Fitzgerald White sets a tone of grandeur as Mustafa, the regally imposing monarch. Denver native Akil L. Luqman is an irresistible Young Simba, agile and alert, a naturally gifted youngster. As the grown Simba, Josh Tower exudes energy in his dancing and shows off a handsome baritone in his “Endless Night” solo.
Patrick Page’s malevolent, patronizing Scar uses elements of sarcasm reminiscent of the late, great Cyril Ritchard in his daunting performance. The rich voice of Fredi Walker-Browne, as the indispensable shaman, fills every niche in the vast Buell. Kissy Simmons has fine vocal strength and physical grace as the grown Nala.
Comic casting is highlighted by Jeffery Binder’s Zasu, a wise and witty bird who earns major amusement with his insinuating portrayal. John Plumpis is an exuberant Timon, the meercat whose bodacious personality enlivens the second act. Blake Hammond, in the splendorous armor of the warthog Pumbaa, brings laughter into the house with every appearance.
The fearsome, laughing hyenas are well done by Jacqueline Ranae Hodges, James Brown-Orleans and Wayne Pyle.
With Garth Fagen’s superb choreography, executed by fine dancers, the work is a constant wonder. The rout of the wildebeests is an unforgettable tour de force of visual imagination.
The production gains strength from the musical contributions of Elton John and Tim Rice and cohorts, particularly Lebo M., who keeps momentum alive with his harmonic diversity. Musical coordination under Jay Alger and his associates is impeccable.