�The Lion King� roars into Fair Park Music Hall

Story, costumes and dazzling puppets make for evening of magical entertainment

BY PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer

Sept 28, 2007 - It’s Hakuna Matata – no worries – for “The Lion King,” the final installment of the Dallas Summer Musicals season, now playing at the Music Hall at Fair Park through Oct. 21. Lion King fans young and old alike flocked to the fairgrounds last weekend to see the show that stormed Broadway in November of 1997, winning six Tonys and more than 40 other major awards worldwide.

The show remains as magical and thrilling as it was the first time I saw it 7 1/2 years ago with my two young sons at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City. Saturday night, I was delighted to share what has come to be called a “landmark event” with my third son, Noah, 7. It was a night to remember.

The moment the lights dimmed and Rafiki’s haunting chant soared through the hall, heads turned in eager anticipation as life-size puppets of African animals paraded down the aisles.

Applause broke out as a lumbering 11-foot elephant (manned by four puppeteers), swooping birds and leaping gazelles made their way to the stage and continued to swell as Pride Rock rose from the mist. 

As the orchestra hit the last notes of “Circle of Life,” the applause culminated into a grandiose celebration of life, sweeping up the enthusiastic audience.

Costume designer Julie Taymor and Michael Curry, one of the country’s leading puppet experts, created hundreds of masks and puppets representing 25 various animals, birds, fish and insects for the musical, but at no time are the actors or puppeteers hidden from view, allowing the audience to see the mechanics necessary to bring the animals and characters to life.Taymor’s costumes, along with the music and special effects, combine to bridge the gap between man and beast. Taymor’s daring designs and direction entice spectators to delve within their own imaginations until the actor and his animal character become one.

The cast was superb, with standout performances from Dionne Randolph as Mufasa and Malcolm-Ali Davis as Young Simba. The two share a heartwarming scene with Randolph singing “They Live in You.” The number gives the audience an intimate look at the close bond between the great lion and his young son.

�� Tony Freeman also turned in a strong performance as the ever lovable � but oh, so cynical � Zazu. Freeman kept the audience in stitches with his sarcastic asides.�

�� The show�s score, composed by Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, blends American pop with African rhythms, making the heart beat in sync with drums and urging the body to sway with the grasslands of the savanna. The music not only entertains; it helps the audience understand the characters� moods and pushes the story line forward.

�The Lion King� is filled with moments of pure theatrical wonder. The brilliant choreography by Garth Fagan, scenic design by Richard Hudson and effective lighting by Donald Holder are remarkable. Every aspect of this production blends seamlessly and contributes to the show�s impressive visual magic. Of note is �Dark Night of the Soul,� a moment in the second act when Mufasa�s face materializes among a scattering of stars suspended above the savanna in the vast night sky.�

One of Noah’s favorite moments was the illusion of the wildebeest stampede. In his words, “It was awesome!”

I could rave on about the show, but the fact is – The Lion King’s magic is something best experienced up close and personal. Treat yourself, your children and your grandchildren and enjoy the thrill of the best musical spectacles of all time.

The show has a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, which includes a 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $29 to $80 and are available at The Box Office at the Preston Royal Shopping Center or any Ticketmaster outlet. For more information call 214-631-ARTS or via the Internet at ww.ticketmaster.com.

Editor’s note: Due to road construction and State Fair of Texas traffic, you’ll need to add 45 minutes to your normal travel time in order to make curtain. Expect to wait about 25 minutes for the parking lot to clear after the show. 

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