In one of the most breathtaking musical openings of all time, the baboon Rafiki calls every African animal to Pride Rock. From the wings, down the aisles and across the balcony come rhinos, giraffes, elephants, a leopard, a gazelle herd and flocks of flying birds to join "The Circle of Life." It's a guaranteed tear-jerker.
A spectacular volcano erupting with love and sensitivity, Disney's newly streamlined stage version of its 1994 animated hit film (nine minutes of song and dance music trimmed) roars into Chicago for a third visit. However, with its 21-piece orchestra, a cast of 53 actors and more than 200 colorful animated animal puppets, this production provides the same wow factor as the current Broadway version.
Julie Taymor's artistry sparkles everywhere, reminding audiences (many new to this show) why her innovative African-inspired production swept the 1998 Tony awards. The Elton John/Tim Rice/Hans Zimmer score, full of tribal rhythms, lush ballads, and upbeat, inspirational melodies has never sounded better. Familiar film favorites like "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" soar along with the beautiful "They Live in You" and "Shadowland."
But this family musical tale can't captivate audiences if it's just technical razzmatazz; it has to have a stellar cast. And it has just that in Dionne Randolph as Mufasa, Adam Jacobs as Simba and Syndee Winters as Nala. Kolton Stewart, opening night's Young Simba, provides enough youthful enthusiasm and dancing skill to hold his own.
The "Circle of Life" indeed goes on and on.