Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Lion King, Gazelle National Tour at Bass Concert Hall, University of Texas, January 16 - February 10, 2013

ALT reviewLion King Disney Gazelle Tour Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

The Gazelle touring company of Disney's The Lion King has settled into the cavernous Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas. The place was filled for the official opening, and the crowd wasn't disappointed. This imaginative spectacle delighted us all with its puppetry, dancing and heroics.

I knew the movie, but I'd never seen the stage production. Now I understand the enthusiasm that has greeted this piece since its 1997 debut in Minneapolis and then on Broadway, where it won six Tony awards including that for best musical. The color, the movement and the dancing are magical. Director Julie Taymore and her imaginative cast and crew created from Disney's animated film something rarely seen on the American stage: a coming-of-age fable that's equal parts ballet, operetta, puppet show and sugarplum dream.

The Lion King, like so much of Disney, is a reassuring tale of youthful quest, conquest of adulthood, and triumph. The hero and heroine are sweet and unblemished, and the villains are comical. That one early touch of disaster, the death of the warm, supportive father-king, is inevitable and in some way tonic. It's a very gentle reminder of the generational losses that as mortal human beings we must always face (the king is dead, long live the king), alleviated by the simple mysticism of imaging those shining stars in the night sky to be our benevolent ancestors looking down upon us. Our hero Simba's only real sins are those of youth, somewhat like those of Henry IV -- impulsiveness, naïveté, flight from responsibility and keeping bad company (though not too bad, for Timon and Pumbaa are happy goofs, not real wastrels). There's even a fairy godmother in the character of Rafiki, the baboon conjur-woman (the ebullient Buyi Zama with her terrific vocal power).

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