‘The Lion King’: Creativity in another dimension

Creative, unique, elegant, artistic and inventive would be understated adjectives when describing “The Lion King.” The phrase “pushing the envelope” must have been created for it. Here is theatre never seen before, a production where the star is the director, who uses her abilities to bring to the stage an experience that unfolds as a story most are familiar with, but with out-of-the-box imagination.
Julie Taymor’s genius direction – she is also the costume designer, mask/puppet co-designer and composer of additional music and lyrics – spills over this production as exquisite African masks and shadow and Bunraku style puppets, to colorful costumes and sets catch the audience up in mind-spinning wonderment. The stage undulates to give the feeling of space and time, and the creatures become real as the actors blend masks and puppets with an openness for all to see.
The plot becomes a secondary event and can become a little trying if you are younger than 10, but the continuous dazzling events on stage make up for a lag here and there.
This is a smaller production than the New York presentation – with a cast that has very large shoes to fill – but their energy and effort is there without the edge of Broadway.
“Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”  are familiar pieces from the animated movie, but it’s the African chants and songs added to the stage version that mesmerize.
Taymor, along with Michael Curry, created hundreds of masks and puppets that give the characters believability.
The opening is almost a spiritual experience: Animals of the Savanna make their way down the aisles toward the stage to the African chant announcing the birth of the baby lion to the lion king. Keep in mind punctuality for this performance is a must. (No one will be seated during the entrance of the animals and it is one of the many highlights of the show.) A dedicated, talented, energetic cast completes the experience.
In 1998, “The Lion King” won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Julie Taymor was the first woman in Broadway history to win the Tony for Best Director of a Musical. It is in its 15th sold out year in New York.
“The Lion King” is an evening of watching pure genius at work, and once it’s gone, there will never be anything like it again.  

Location: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco
Through: Jan. 13                     
Tickets: $35- $199
Details: 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com.

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