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Pure Magic ... No 'Lion'

January 25, 2008 - Phyllis Sigal
Do you need something uplifting to add some life and light to the dreary days of winter?

Might I suggest a trip to Pittsburgh to see "The Lion King," live on stage at the Benedum Center, now through Feb. 17.

It's been about five or six years since I saw the stage musical in Toronto, Canada. I remember it being amazing, but I also remember dozing a bit. It must've been a full day of shopping or a heavy dinner at that French bistro that wore me out. I remember the kids loved it, as did my husband.

But when the opportunity arose to see it in Pittsburgh, I jumped at the chance.

From the first moment when the characters — especially the gigantic elephant — amble down the aisles to the last moment when the audience cheers, it's a beautiful production. I was wiping tears away more than a few times.

It's no wonder the show won the Tony Award in 1998 for Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical (Julie Taymor, who became the first woman to win that honor), Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design (Taymor, too) and Best Lighting Design. The show also won numerous Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, Drama League Awards, and the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Musical, Theatre World Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, the Astaire Award for Outstanding Choreography AND, the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. That was all in 1998. More awards were forthcoming in London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Japan and Hamburg, from 1999 to 2003. The costumes, puppets, masks and set design consistently won awards. You almost forget there are people within the puppet/mask costume, but the actual person is very integral to the affect.

"'The Lion King' is unique in that we see how the magic works on stage. There's no attempt to cover up the wheels and cogs that make it all happen. The human beings who control the puppets and wear the animal masks are fully seen. As an audience member at 'The Lion King,' you have an important job: with your imagination, you are invited to mix the 'animal' with the human into a magical whole," according to press information. Very true.

And of course, the music, by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, is beautiful as well as fun. African music is also mixed in.

"The Lion King" opened on Broadway in November of 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and now plays at the Minskoff Theatre, where it continues to break the theater's box office records. But you can see it now in Pittsburgh .... through Feb. 17. It's well worth it. Caution: It is a bit scary at parts for really young children.

FUN FACTS: There are more than 200 puppets in the show.

There are 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects.

There are 12 bird kites in the opening number of Act II.

It took 17,000 hours to build the puppets and masks.

It takes two semi-trailer trucks to transport the production's puppets from city to city.

There are 52 wildebeests in the show.

 
 

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