“The Lion King” wows visually, not musically

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“The Lion King” musical is in Des Moines at the Civic Center April 28-May 17.

Hannah Crooks, Staff Writer

The last time I saw “The Lion King” at the Civic Center, I was 12-years-old. I thought it was the most amazing show I’d ever seen, even though a tall, elderly man had sat directly in front of me, blocking a portion of my view. Going in to the show 5 years later, having seen my fair share of musicals at this point, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was definitely excited. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

The set and costumes for “The Lion King” were absolutely astonishing. I remember them being great last time, but I was able to pay more attention to the specific details the second time around. Pride Rock is ran by a remote control, moves around the stage in a circular, smooth, automated motion and can be made shorter or longer, based on the scene. The set took nine days to set up before opening night and I am impressed it didn’t take longer. The giraffes are actors with four stilts on their hands and feet. The lions have lion masks that can be lifted above their head when they talk, and lowered to their faces during other scenes. All of the animals are very humanistic. The costumes do not hide the fact that a living, breathing human is hidden beneath the artistry and make up. I found this very interesting, as it definitely made it easier for the audience to feel the emotions of the actors. The costumes and set design are ridiculously detailed and not at all cartoonish, which they could’ve been, considering it is based off of an animated movie.

I loved the way that director, Julie Taymor, kept the show’s original youthfulness. The comedic moments from the movie remained, as well as additional jokes, including once when the hornbill bird, Zazu, also the king’s right-hand-man, badly sings “Let It Go” from “Frozen” for a couple seconds. The whole musical was very light-hearted and lively. While it might be directed more towards kids and families, the show is wildly enjoyable for anyone to watch.

The one thing I was disappointed with was the musicality, or lack thereof. The orchestra and the drummers were wonderful. However, I felt robbed of any vocal “wow” moments. As a total musical junkie, there is usually at least one point, if it is a quality musical, where I have my breath taken away and I sit in my chair in absolute awe at a powerful vocal moment. I’m a strong believer that a well-sung song can move people, and in “The Lion King,” I can’t say I felt particularly moved. There were, of course, plenty of fun songs, such as “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” that had me tapping my feet and laughing along with the characters’ funny antics. However, I greatly missed “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” my personal favorite song from the movie, which was only sung for about 30 seconds and not with the same satisfying tone.

Overall, “The Lion King” musical is a welcomed treat for anyone looking for a night of pure entertainment. It really is well worth the cost and time to see the characters of the beloved Disney movie take the stage in this comical, memorable performance.