“THE LION KING” Roars at Times-Union Center

FSCJ ARTIST SERIES BROADWAY IN JACKSONVILLE REVIEW

A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

Disney’s The Lion King, the world’s # 1 musical, is back in town until February 11, 2018 at the Times Union Center. For tickets call (904) 632-5000 or visit fscjartistseries.org.

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The Broadway version debuted in 1997 and was based on Disney’s 1994 animated film version. The film was immensely popular, and holds the world record for the highest grossing animated film of all time.

We know that many of our readers saw this show when the Artist Series brought it to Jacksonville in 2007 and are wondering if this is the same show. While the story remains the same (with some updated dialogue), the current show is even better than the previous version. Stage technology has been remarkably improved over the past ten years. Advances in lighting technology make dazzling special effects possible, and the sound system is much better. Newer materials that are stronger and lighter than those used in the past make it possible to easily construct intricate sets and costumes.

The story is set in an African kingdom ruled by lions, and begins with King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi presenting Simba, their newborn cub to their gathered subjects. In the midst of the celebration, we learn that Scar, the king’s brother, wants to become king. Scar later stages a stampede of wildebeests, which results in Mufasa’s death. Thinking he is responsible for his father’s death, Simba goes into exile, and Scar becomes king. While living in the jungle, Simba becomes friends with Pumbaa, a warthog and Timon, a meerkat, who are both very funny and very supportive. Simba later avenges his father’s death and ascends to the throne, to the delight of his subjects. The show ends on a positive note but what a journey!

The choreography is outstanding and begins off stage, with a parade of animals in the aisles; it includes animals of all shapes and sizes portrayed by wonderful dancers. Most of the songs were composed by Elton John and Tim Rice and are beautifully sung as solos and ensemble pieces by the fifty cast members. “Circle of Life” is one of the most popular, both in the film and on stage.

The opening night audience included young children, families, and seniors. We heard someone ask if children could understand the fast-moving story. Actually, many children are familiar with the story, through the film which is shown on television from time to time and from The Lion King, Jr., a shortened version of the show which has been done by various schools in this area in the past.

The current stage version at the Times-Union Center is an enchanting, breath-taking production that will have the audience’s undivided attention. Definitely recommended!

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.
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