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by Erika Haslup, student writer

This is not the Lion King you remember from when you were a child. This is an intense Broadway re-creation of the Disney’s classic films, that captivates the audience.From the instant the curtain rose, as Rafiki, played by Gugwana Dlamini, calls out “Nants’ Ingonyama,” cheers and applause erupted from the audience. The introductory song, “Circle of Life” was barely audible amid the deafening excitement of our applause.

After the clapping subsided, the production transported the audience to the African plains and a great menagerie of animals both large and small. Just as in the film, we meet Mufasa, played by Geno Segers, Sarabi, played by Marvette Williams, and young Simba, played by Trevor Jackson or Nicholas Ashe, and the evil Scar, played by Kevin Gray.

In an interview with The Honolulu Advertiser’s Wayne Harada, Gray expressed each performer’s commitment to bringing his or her role to life, “If I don’t get booed,” Gray said, “I haven’t done my job.”

Gray did his job well. Each time he came on stage, Scar’s treachery and wickedness were palpable throughout the performance hall.

Another character who made a great impression on the audience was Gugwana Dlamini’s Rafiki. Karen Gaspar, an HPU senior, saw the show during opening week and felt Dlamini’s performance was her favorite.

“ The actress did more with that character than I expected, and the way she projected that character was outstanding. Rafiki had an excellent voice and stage presence,” Gaspar said.

The cast and set were interactive, as the production’s designers put a lot of effort into making each member of the audience a part of the show. Performers were found in the aisles and balconies singing and dancing, and puppets flew through the air.

The set designs were intricate and detailed and moved flawlessly from one scene to another. The Pridelands drifted across the stage, and without any trouble the elephant skeleton extended into view. The jungle and Rafiki’s tree grew out onto the stage leading the audience and Simba away from a troubled past.

From the opening song, when the warm colors of the rising sun welcomed the audience into Africa, every change of scene was reinforced by subtle excellence of lighting that emphasized the moods of the characters and situations.

The costumes were unique. Though many of them were developed with an animal puppet as the focus, each actor blended the animal and the person together. The jump between human and animal was hardly noticeable.

Zazu, advisor to Mufasa, played by Michael Dean Morgan, demonstrated the seamless transition perfectly when appearing on stage as a puppet. Morgan carried the bird within most of the scenes, but at one point he puts the puppet down completely and interacts with the set as a man. And he remained Zazu, though the bird was nowhere to be seen.

HPU junior Martin Valdez has seen the production three times in New York and went for the fourth time here on O‘ahu. Valdez loved the production and said, “It is one of the best visual works of art, and the music is amazing.”

The music, much of which is familiar to those who have seen the Disney film, was created by Elton John and Tim Rice. Additional songs, composed with the help of the choral director, Lebo M, were added to the Broadway production, and these provide more depth to the characterizations and to the Lion King itself.

The Lion King achieved a strong connection with the audience, one that could be heard in applause throughout the show and seen in the standing ovation at the end. The performance was one for all ages, not just families.

HPU student Martha Randolph, who has seen hundreds of Broadway productions—her father is the late actor John Randolph—thought enough of the Lion King that she e-mailed all of her teachers and classmates, encouraging them to see the show: “This play can never be done by an amateur company…It’s too expensive to produce the costumes, puppets, and [there are] no amateur talents up to the technique required by this play.

“ This will be your one chance to see this production, probably in your life time if you live and remain in Hawai‘i. [Lion King] will fill your heart with joy and the memory will stay with you forever.”

The Lion King

When: Through December 9

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

Show Times: Tuesday-Friday 8 p.m.
Saturday 2 & 8 p.m.
Sunday 1 & 6:30 p.m.

Admission: Tues.-Thurs & 6:30 p.m. Sunday
$33, $74, $86
Fridays, Saturdays, & 1 p.m. Sundays
$38, $79, $91
Premium Tickets-$156

For tickets call 877-750-440, visit ticketmaster.com,
or visit any Ticketmaster outlet.




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