'The Lion King' comes to life in Syracuse

Review: The hit Broadway musical stages a four-week run at the Crouse Hinds Theater in Syracuse.

Since its Broadway debut in 1997, “The Lion King” has been entrancing audiences around the world. Now, Syracuse is joining the roar of approval.

Opening night elephants, gazelles, birds, giraffes and lions processed to the impressive Pride Rock on the stage of the Crouse Hinds Theater, as the African chants recognizable as the beginning of “Circle of Life” fill the auditorium.

Photo: Ryan Shanley
Mufasa sharing a moment with his son Simba in 'The Lion King' at the OnCenter.

It’s a spectacle that earned designer Julie Taymor two Tony awards and world-wide recognition and causes the audience of adults and children to point and gasp in amazement.

The incredible sets and costumes took the play from the elephant graveyard to Rafiki’s tree or the jungle in a way that is astounding, even to the sophisticated theatergoer. The wildebeest stampede through the gorge is an exceptional demonstration of the production’s magnificence. Panels were lined up on the stage to give the perspective of hills; the wildebeests grew in size as they came closer to the front of the stage where Simba lay waiting for his father, Mufasa, to rescue him.

The elaborate costumes were both stunning and effectively designed for each character, each design different from the one before. During “He Lives in You,” the ensemble was dressed in flowing fabrics of red, blue, yellow and green. In other scenes, figures of antelope were attached to the arms of actors to show them galloping through the plains.

Each costume was created and placed on the actor in a specific way so that it would represent the movements of that animal. The actors transformed themselves not only into the creatures, but even the grass and trees were represented by specific movements.

The actors played these animals to life-like degrees and with sweeping emotion. Jelani Remey played to part of adult Simba and gave a moving performance when he sang “Endless Night” in the second act.

Nick Cordileone playing Timon and Ben Lipitz playing Pumbaa had wonderful chemistry together on stage. They captured the personalities of the movie’s characters perfectly. Mark David Kaplan portrayed Zazu with loveable energy as he ran about the stage in a blue suit and orange shoes with a bird hand puppet. Buyi Zama’s performance of Rafiki affected the audience with both humor and sorrow.

While the majority of the show was phenomenal, the strobe lighting during certain scenes was more distracting than exciting. The first instance of strobe lighting took place in the elephant graveyard as the hyenas terrorized young Simba and Nala. The lights flashed into the audience from the sides of the stage, and they caused some audience members to turn away from them.

This production of The Lion King is definitely a show the entire family can enjoy. It tells the story of the popular Disney movie for children, but it also adds in some humor that the adults can appreciate.

The musical event is onstage at the Crouse Hinds Theater in the Oncenter now through Oct. 2

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