It probably took a story that started as a cartoon to produce the kind of imagination and spectacle that "The Lion King" provides as a Broadway musical. Somebody had to come up with a way to make animated characters come to life in the hands (and feet and voices) of human actors, and they did a wonderful job. The show has elements of musical theater, Las Vegas glitz, African folklore, and enough of the original Disney movie to make it familiar, yet something unlike anything else I've seen.
It's hard to believe that this kind of innovation came from a corporation known for bottom lines and safety nets. Only Disney could have done it, because of their resources, but for Disney to imagine the concept in the first place is almost as incongruous as for Disney to greenlight it. They've come up with a whole new entertainment genre, and that's something wonderful.
The flow of the production depends more on energy and special effects than acting or narrative. The show Mom and I saw today at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco was loaded with energy, and the effects were awe-inspiring. It's a different kind of theatrical experience, not like going to see a play at all.
The fringe characters, not the principals, carry the story. Young Simba in this production is full of life and enthusiasm, but Zazu is the creature you can't keep your eyes off. And Timon and Pumbaa are the much-needed comic relief in a sometimes grim fairy tale of death and rebirth. Most of the others could be portrayed by anyone in the company, and in fact many of the major characters in today's show were played by understudies.
Some of the special effects, believe it or not, are beautifully underplayed. The watering hole drying up at the beginning of Act II went nearly unnoticed The costumes and sets are loaded with interesting details, the kind that make you want to see the play again. And I would see it again, if I could afford it. If the run of the show keeps getting extended, it might still be here by the next time I'm out of debt.