The King continues to rule Broadway stage

Disney’s “The Lion King” returned to Chicago Dec. 2, 2015 at the Cadillac Palace ready to impress. Over winter break, I was able to see the production at the same venue that I had seen it 13 years ago and it still had me captivated by its beautiful and intricate sets, puppets and costumes.

The production has won 70 major international theater awards and is the third longest running Broadway show.

The show is a 2 ½ hour production recommended for children ages six and up, but I consider it a crowd pleaser for mature audiences as well.

Audience members become fully immersed in the experience, surrounded by African drums and the music ensemble as they convey the story of an animal kingdom.

If it was not enough for one of the world’s most popular cartoons to be adapted into a Broadway production, the 232 puppets in the show will leave you amazed.  Some of the impressive pieces include 18-foot tall giraffes that navigate the stage with grace.  The show also includes a cheetah on the prowl.  Actors control the puppets, each specific movement calculated, making the complicated costume and people seem as one.

Mufasa’s (Gerald Ramsey) and Scar’s (Patrick R. Brown) masks remain stationary atop of the actors’ heads until they manipulate the costumes to move with them. The masks go from sitting out of sight to hiding the faces of the men, making the lions look realistic.

The stunning opening number “The Circle of Life” brings the entire ensemble together onstage and hooks the audience instantly. The Serengeti coming alive as elaborate elephants, delicate cranes, wildebeest and other safari animals wander down aisles towards Pride Rock to celebrate the birth of Simba.

While I remembered many components of the musical, my 5-year-old sister, Cameron, fell in love with the production for the first time. Her obsession with the cartoon film helped her make connections between the songs and storyline the two productions have in common. The pure bliss and wonder shined through her face throughout the entire musical as she sang along with the ensemble.

I will admit that I snuck video of Cameron during the opening number. Looking back and seeing her take in  “The Circle of Life” and the ensemble who was teaching the audience about the balance of life was spectacular.

“The Lioness Hunt”, “Rafiki Mourns” and “One By One” are just a few songs created for the Broadway production that take viewers from their seats and transport them into the Pride lands. In these specific songs, traditional African chants and drums showcase the different languages incorporated in the lyrics.

Several African languages are spoken and sung throughout the production.  These languages include Swahili, Zulu and Tswana and are integrated into the originally English-written songs and script.

Disney has a way of making experiences magical. By taking a movie and transferring it to the stage, it becomes a spectacular reality.

While “The Lion King” is no longer on stage in Chicago, there are performances in Florida, New York and other locations this upcoming year. More information about showtimes and tickets can be found on “The Lion King” website.