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The Reign Continues

Sixteen years later, “The Lion King” is still relevant

by Published: Feb 27, 2013

The Lion King: Performers sing and dance during the production of a Broadway rendition of “The Lion King.” It is currently running in Detroit from Feb. 14 through March 10. Courtesy Photo: Disney Theatrical Productions

The Lion King: Performers sing and dance dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of a Broadway ren­di­tion of “The Lion King.” It is cur­rently run­ning in Detroit from Feb. 14 through March 10. Courtesy Photo: Disney Theatrical Productions

The Swahili trans­la­tion of “Hakuna matata” is lit­er­ally “no wor­ries.” At least we know Disney’s sub­lim­i­nal mes­sag­ing hasn’t cor­rupted our entire child­hood experience.

Yes, “The Lion King” is a children’s movie, but does that mean teenagers and adults alike can­not enjoy it?

There is such a place where an adult can find his inner child in watch­ing “The Lion King,” and that place is Broadway.

A good def­i­n­i­tion of the work of art that is “The Lion King” is African cul­ture meets an American children’s story. The musi­cal is loaded with big names such as Sir Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M. and Hans Zimmer.

Lyrical genius Elton John helps install mul­ti­ple new songs to the already mag­i­cal Disney tale, adding a more mature feel­ing to a story cen­tered around chil­dren, allow­ing a much wider range of appeal.

How could a “Lion King” fan want more? The music is not just the sing-a-long movie tunes, but is adjoined with actual African music pieces sung in Swahili.

It is rare that you see a cos­tume designer as tal­ented and inno­v­a­tive as Julie Taymor. Taymor cap­tures African cul­ture with the ornate art on the heads of the many lions.

These lion heads—one of many of Taymor’s artis­tic mas­ter­pieces through­out the musical—are mounted to face for­ward, thus swing­ing for­ward when the actors lower their heads.

Her rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the baboon philoso­pher, Rafiki, is sim­ply mas­ter­ful, from the face paint to the staff and grass skirt.

She uses sym­bol­ism through the ani­mals, using skele­tal crea­tures dur­ing the reign of Scar to show the star­va­tion of the lions.

The story itself is incred­i­bly acces­si­ble, which allowed the writ­ers to expand on Disney’s idea of the cir­cle of life. It bet­ter shows the plight on the lions’ faces when over­taken by Scar than in the movie. Extra scenes are respon­si­ble for mak­ing this play even more of a mas­ter­piece than the orig­i­nal story.

Perhaps the muscial’s biggest leap for­ward is that the stage is not the limit. While the set of Pride Rock and the ele­phant grave­yard are well put together, the pro­ces­sional “Circle of Life” may be the great­est audience-capturing piece of music in mod­ern the­ater history.

It begins with a sing and response between Rafiki and an off­stage ram, usu­ally in the upper deck. As the sun rises on stage, many other animals—including peo­ple on stilts in a giraffe cos­tume, a mas­sive ele­phant or two and a cheetah—stride regally down the aisles toward the stage.

Running since 1997, “The Lion King” is one of Broadway’s longest run­ning shows. The inno­va­tion and star-studded group respon­si­ble for the mas­ter­piece is its rea­son for longevity.

“The Lion King” runs in Detroit from Feb. 14 through March 10. This is not a musi­cal event to miss.