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PostHeaderIcon The Lion King at Cadillac Palace – Theater Review

Disney’s “The Lion King” is back in Chicago for its third extended visit, now more than a decade removed from its first circle of joyous theatrical life.

Lion King Cadillac Palace Theatre Review

Lion King Cadillac Palace Theatre Review

Tours of this complexity, magnitude and guaranteed appeal are bordering on extinction in this recessionary era. But there has been no drop down the theatrical food chain here. Although the great Tony Freeman must have worn out several birdcages as Zazu by now, Disney has managed to cast new young performers, like Adam Jacobs’ Simba, who avoid cynicism and make the ascension of Pride Rock still look like the realization of some great personal ambition. It was all there in the steeling-himself moment prior to the assumption of rock and throne. Such details, such maintenance of quality, are why “The Lion King” roars on.

Behold the abiding lessons of “The Lion King.” Maybe Taymor needs to remind herself.

There is nothing more powerful than a story of loss of a parental figure and the subsequent assumption of adulthood with a symbolic nod from the one deceased. We never tire of that, because we never tire of praying, hoping, that the people we’ve all loved and lost are still, in some form, there to take care of us. We fear they are not. When we see a show that makes us feel like they are, we’re washed with comfort and hope. It’s as simple as that. Dazzle ‘em at the start—that would be “The Circle of Life”—and they’ll immediately relax because they’ve feel like they got their money’s worth. And with that worry gone, then you can tell ‘em a tale.

It’s nice to have a couple of songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” sure, but, really, it’s all about the storytelling. The songs, as Aristotle noted, are pleasurable accompaniments. No more, no less.

Mainstream audiences have much greater visual sophistication than many theater people realize: You see all kinds of different versions of the same character here (Simba is played by two different actors and half-dozen different forms of puppet) and yet people fully accept him as one true being. The truth is in the little details, and in the consistent unity of the story.

There’s one last thing. In “The Lion King,” the actor playing, say, Scar (in this case, the juicily menacing J. Anthony Crane) has both a puppet head and his own head to work with. It’s on record as being fiendishly difficult to perform, but in performance it’s like watching two shows on two different levels (no other animation-to-musical piece really has this). At “Lion King,” your eye pops and bounces back and forth from the performer to the animal and then back again, giving a genuinely richer aesthetic experience. Taymor and Curry (the puppet designer) really staged two shows at once. It keeps the audience just slightly off-balance and wholly entranced. If I were a Disney exec with a catalog of animation, I’d try that one again.

The Lion King is performing at Cadillac Palace Theatre through November 27, 2010. Buy Lion King Cadillac Palace Theatre Tickets and Save $10 on Lion King Ticket Orders Over $350! Code AFF$10


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