The Lion King - A 20th Anniversary Report by Kyle Wrentz
A Lion King alum revisits and relives Disney's landmark musical at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre.
This past Sunday, Disney Theatrical celebrated a landmark achievement of its landmark musical with the 20th Anniversary Gala performance of The Lion King at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre. To mark the occasion, the original creative team including its Tony Award-winning director and costume designer Julie Taymor, lyricist Sir Tim Rice, composers Lebo M. and Sir Elton John, were all invited to attend. The lucky attendees even had the good fortune to experience Sir Elton gracing the stage at the curtain call to give his own rendition of "Circle of Life", accompanied by the entire cast.
In addition, Lion King alumni from the musical's 20-year history were also gathered under the same roof by Disney Theatrical President and Producer Thomas Schumacher as part of an ever-growing family of performers. One of those alumni on Sunday was Kyle Wrentz, friend to the New York Theatre Guide and co-founder of Break a Leg Theater Works. Having spent over a decade performing the musical on Broadway, in Las Vegas and all around the United States, The Lion King has become an integral part of Kyle's life and he has kindly agreed to share his thoughts with us about the current state of the production after 20 years on the Great White Way and why he believes The Lion King has stood the test of time, becoming one of Broadway's most beloved musicals...
"A sunrise on a day. It could be a Saturday or a Wednesday, but regardless, 20 years later, The Lion King is still a timeless piece of artistry and magical allure. The moment you hear Rafiki's clarion call across the pridelands welcoming the new prince to the kingdom, you are lost in the story, as the iconic procession of animals begins.
It is no wonder that sold out audiences continue to flock to the Minskoff Theatre 8 times a week, bringing their own legacy of family members that keep this fable alive. The score still maintains its variety of gifts, especially the songs rooted in the African tradition. Whether it be Grasslands, Rafiki Mourns or Shadowland, the ensemble sings in exceptional harmony with lush beautiful melodic tones that capture the essence of the evening.
As for the 20th Anniversary cast, Tshidii Manye continues her extraordinary run as Rafiki; she's playful and illustrious and every time she hits the stage, the audience is in the palm of her hand. L. Steven Taylor captures all facets of the king, Mufasa. He is regal and full of gravitas, while also letting us glimpse behind the mask in the tender private moments he shares with his son, young Simba (played by an energetic Kenneth Aikens who displayed an awesome backhand spring). He is aptly assisted by Cameron Pow who is charming as Zazu, the trusty hornbill and confidant of the royal family.
Stephen Carlile, a prominent actor from London's West End, is deliciously wicked as Scar, he seems to be having a ball plotting and scheming away for the coup of the century. He brings along three misfit hyenas for the ride; hilariously played by Bonita Hamilton, James Brown-Orleans, and Enrique Sequra. Jelani Remy brings a vulnerability and magnetism to the role of Simba. From the moment he swings out on that vine in the middle of the jungle, you are rooting for this lion to find his way back home and claim himself as the rightful king. Jelani's interpretation of the folk tune Endless Night was performed with an honest purity that truly was a highlight of the evening.
Timon and Pumbaa keep the comic relief coming all evening. Ben Jeffery sets up the jokes nicely, and Fred Berman knocks the ball right out of the park, all the while keeping us full of chuckles. A special mention needs to go to the remarkable dancers of The Lion King ensemble who performed updated choreography throughout the evening. Their new movement during the She's Going to Eat Me portion of the performance gathered rapturous and sustained applause, so kudos to them for their remarkable artistry and sustained commitment to the storytelling.
Overall, The Lion King continues to be a wonderful evening at the theater. You will laugh, cry and marvel at all the beauty around. As Rafiki says during Circle of Life, "There is far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found." That declaration still rings true, 20 years later. Every time I see The Lion King, I notice something new, I consider the story through the eyes of another character's perspective. In such a time of turmoil and discourse, it is lovely to get lost in this iconic piece and be inspired by all the cultures and individuals who continue to come together to make the entrancing musical still shine so radiantly today."
- Kyle Wrentz
(All photos by Walter McBride)
Disney's The Lion King Tickets are available now for performances through to July 1, 2018.
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