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Omaha Magazine

Review: ‘The Lion King’ Reigns Supreme at the Orpheum Theater

Mar 04, 2024 01:52PM ● By Natalie Veloso

Photo by Matthew Murphy. Provided by Omaha Performing Arts.

“Life’s not fair, is it?” 

Scar, the cunning antagonist, delivers this first line with a dark demeanor, a stark contrast to the bright opening procession of “The Lion King.”

Hinting at the complexity of the narrative ahead, Scar’s menacing dialogue follows the captivating Zulu call of “Nants' Ingonyama” in "Circle of Life” as the puppet animal kingdom parades through the audience and gathers at Pride Rock to celebrate the birth of Simba. On the radiant opening night of “The Lion King” at the Orpheum Theater, theatergoers were transported into the heart of the African savanna by what I consider the most magical opening to any live musical. 

In Act I, we watch Simba's youthful curiosity lead him and Nala into forbidden territory, where they encounter danger orchestrated by Simba’s treacherous uncle. Scar's sharp wit makes him a formidable foe as he schemes to seize the regal power of his brother, Mufasa. The heartbreaking loss of Simba's father sets Simba on a journey of self-discovery and redemption, closing Act I as we witness Simba, now an adult, poised to face the challenges and responsibilities that await him.

Act II delves deeper into the consequences of Scar's reign as the Pride Lands suffer under his tyrannical rule. Simba's return brings hope and renewal, culminating in a climactic showdown atop Pride Rock. With themes of courage, love, and the enduring circle of life, “The Lion King” delivers both a visually stunning and thematically profound experience.

The extraordinary performance by the child actors portraying Simba (Mason Lawson) and Nala (Jaxyn Damasco) on Friday night was one of the most remarkable aspects of the show. Their raw talent breathed new life into the iconic roles, infusing the stage with an infectious energy that resonated throughout the audience. Simba and Nala’s adult actors (Erick D. Patrick and Khalifa White) seamlessly continued the storyline in Act II, both giving equally impressive performances.

The humor infused by characters like Zazu, Timon, and Pumbaa provided delightful moments of levity, even throwing in personalized jokes for an Omaha audience. Their witty banter and comedic timing elicited uproarious laughter throughout the show. The musical numbers, both beloved classics and new compositions, were nothing short of breathtaking. From the jubilant "I Just Can't Wait to be King" to the stunning "Circle of Life," each song transported us on a journey of emotion and discovery, underscored by the five Indigenous African languages woven throughout the performances.

During a pivotal moment in the show, every ensemble member transformed into a hyena, embodying the menace and chaos of the scene with striking intensity. Their synchronized movements left a lasting impression, highlighting the collective talent and precision of the cast. Each actor embodied the iconic characters with true care, fostering a sense of awe that lingered long after the final curtain fell—our audience responded with a lengthy standing ovation.

It's clear why the North American touring production requires 17 trucks to transport its intricate puppets and set pieces alone. Each element of the show contributed to its unparalleled beauty and grandeur in an experience that promises to leave audiences spellbound. Don't miss your chance to be swept away by the magic of this timeless classic as it continues its journey across the nation.

Disney’s “The Lion King'' runs Feb.29–March 24 at the Orpheum Theater. To purchase tickets, visit ticketomaha.com/Productions/the-lion-king.

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