The King of the Pridelands is back in Portland for the third National Tour of Disney’s The Lion King. Whether you’ve seen it three times already or are one of the few people left on earth who’ve never heard of it, The Lion King should not be missed. This production is storytelling at its finest. From the “Circle of Life” parade of animals, including a life-size elephant, to the full choir in colorful African dress, to the finale at Pride Rock, I was mesmerized — and so were the hundreds of kids in the audience when I saw it Wednesday night.
You’ve never seen a show like this one.
The creative team behind the costumes and choreography transforms human actors into the animals and even plants of Africa with such artistry, it’s absolutely stunning. More than 40 performers breathe life into everything from the tallest giraffe to the smallest firefly. The way they move their bodies in union with the characters they control — part costume, part puppet — is thrilling to watch, even when they play the part of grass. Add the beautiful African rhythms and this alone is worth the price of admission. As a bonus, all that creativity and talent is used to tell a story that everyone can relate to. It’s about the love between a parent and child, and how drawing on that bond gives one the strength to face the mistakes of their past and fight for their future.
It’s a different experience than the film.
Parents should know that this production is much darker than the 1994 animated film it’s based on, and because it’s live theater, it can feel more intense. Though stylized, danger, violence and murder are very strong themes and several characters are killed on stage. The villain, Scar, with his constant toothy smile, is sleazier than in the movie, and the scene where he wants to make Nala his queen gives off a creepy, predatory vibe. When Scar sends the hyenas to kill Simba, it was so intense, a mother in the second row reassured her son, “Everything is going to be all right.” And all right it was, because this scene is followed by the comic relief of everyone’s favorite mantra, “Hakuna Matata.” My son, who first saw this show when he was five years old, loved it at that age, as did the little girls sitting in front of me last night. I think any child who has seen the animated version or is familiar with the Lion King story will be fine.
The merch is worth the splurge.
If you think your kids might get scared, just bring your credit card! The children sitting in front of me came back from intermission with happy smiles on their faces as they cuddled new stuffed animals. The selection of merchandise for sale in the lobby has greatly improved over the years. It now includes cloth dolls that look like the actors who play Simba and Nala, as well as a stuffed baby Simba that looks like the puppet used on stage.
Know Before You Go
There are a few things to know before you go. Booster seats for kids are available at no charge from the coat check area on the north side of the lobby. Bathrooms are very crowded during intermission, so go before the show. Finally, arrive early. Late seating is not allowed until after the opening song. And you absolutely do not want to miss this magical number, when the parade of animals enter through the audience as Rafiki belts out those famous first lines of “Circle of Life” in Zulu. You can hear them in your mind right now, can’t you?
Disney’s The Lion King plays at Keller Auditorium now through January 28. At this time, tickets are still available for all performances and are priced from $34.75 to $124.75.
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