“THE LION KING” THRILLS AT THE BUSHNELL


BONNIE GOLDBERG

Parades and pageantry and puppets, masks and majesty and music, color and costuming and charisma, all mark the spectacle that is “The Lion King” now roaring its way into the Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Arts until Sunday, February 14.

A giant sun of gold glistens on Pride Rock where King Mufasa (Dionne Randolph) and Queen Sarabi (LaShanda Reese-Fletcher) welcome their new baby cub Simba (alternately portrayed by Elijah Johnson and Jerome Stephens, Jr.) and show him off to the gathering herds of animals who pay homage.  The only animal not pleased by Simba’s arrival is Scar (Brent Harris) who assumed he would be the rightful leader after his brother Musafa could no longer rule.

It doesn’t take long for the envious and devious Scar to form a plan, to get rid of both Mufasa and Simba, by luring the headstrong and curious cub away to the forbidden Elephant Graveyard and there have his coterie of friends, led by a trio of evil hyenas (Andrea Jones, Omari Tau and Ben Roseberry), dispose of his rivals to the throne.

When the first plan doesn’t work, Scar quickly puts in place a second plot and succeeds in having Mufasa killed in a stampede of wildebeests and having Simba assume all the blame.  While Scar thinks Simba is dead, the young impetuous lion runs away into the jungle and is befriended by a humorous meerkat Timon (Tyler Murree) and a soft-hearted warthog Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz).  With his new comrades, Simba  prepares for the time when he will be reunited with his best friend Nala (Marja Harmon; played as a young cub alternately by Jamariana Tribble and Madai Monica Williams), the court’s favorite bird Zazu (Tony Freeman) and the kingdom’s all-knowing baboon shaman Rafiki (Phindile Mkhize).

The now grown Simba (Andre Jackson) returns to Pride Rock and to rightfully restore his place to a land now decimated by drought and famine, due to his Uncle Scar’s carelessness and lack of concern.  Throughout the story telling, Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical contributions like “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” resonate through the savannah grasslands.

The elaborately beautiful costumes, masks and puppets designed by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry make this lush production a banquet to feast on for the eyes and ears, from the first steps of the lumbering elephants and giraffes on stilts to the last mighty roar as Simba takes his place of pride.  Attention to detail is noted in every zebra stripe and swish of a cougar’s tail.  One would expect nothing less from Disney, under the ingenious direction of Julie Taymor.

For tickets ($20.50-128), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org.  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Join the more than fifty million people in thirteen different countries who have experienced the grandeur of the African plains where puppets and people tell the extraordinary story of Simba in spectacular style. 

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