TouringPlans is pleased to welcome guest author Ted Wioncek III.
Walt Disney World produces some of the most animated live shows in the world. One of the most outstanding productions that will come out of the parks is none other than the recently renewed celebration of the Lion King festival at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.
Although some have dubbed this program a “Broadway” style, I find its comparison a bit ill-defined. Perhaps the phrase “Broadway caliber” would be more appropriate. In the classical sense, the presentation is a much less traditional musical theater and much more like an emerging Las Vegas performance, with a combination of singing, dancing, acrobatics and puppets. The Lion King Festival celebration features a larger show than a standard book that explains the 1994 animated film and therefore offers exactly what the title suggests … a celebration! While this may not be the treatment that theme park attendees expect, it is is which makes it so refreshing!
When the show begins, we are immediately greeted by four animated narrators dressed in African-inspired costumes who are introduced sharing the meaning of their Swahili names: Kiume (strong and manly), Nakawa (handsome), Zawadi (the gift). ), and Kibibi (princess). Throughout the 30-minute showcase, each performer will live up to their name as it fits our heart perfectly. While they proudly present themselves as individual players, they act as a unit. As the musical slides from one song to the next, it becomes clear that these are experienced performers who are not afraid to feed on the energy of the crowd.
The rest of the cast consists of dancers (and a disguised character) wearing vibrant dressings inspired by both human and animal characters, including lions, elephants, giraffes, birds, zebras, and gazelles. The costumes are reminiscent of the original 1997 Broadway production, designed by director Julie Taymor. Despite this, that the production highlights sequins and theatrical feathers on muted tones and found materials. According to various sources, more than 100 costumes take to the stage throughout the musical in short form.
This tribal festival takes track of previous Disney parades through the use of large puppets and floats, including a large-scale Pumba and show. melena of honor, Simba. While these figures hold dialogues (including some Pumba’s self-referential humor about “staying” in the float), the discourse is banal. Still, I guess it’s better than getting too deep into the weeds, as their main duty is to hug the sides of the stage and offer them familiar sweets while the live artists carry the load. However, they are impressive and necessary, if not for the plot, to the customer’s expectations. Still, more impressive than these stately structures is “Talking Timon,” performed by a very cheerful and capable individual. Between 1998 and 2009, this role required exaggerated and timely gestures and a voice-over track to help facilitate ferries and dialogue to facilitate transitions. However, eleven years into his career, Disney Imagineers included a Timon character who could blink and utter words as he spoke and sang, as only Nathan Lane can do. This was (and still is) a welcome improvement to production, which fostered the ability of the beloved meercat to express its frantic high-energy frenzies.
Kiume takes the lead for an impressive rendition of Be Prepared. Although his presence is intimidating (it produces lightning inside the enclosed enclosure, no more and no less), the script does not help to explain that it is not Scar, but simply temporarily embodies the famous villain for this brief vocalization. And frankly, we don’t need the explanation. Thanks to Simba’s quick post about the fact that this “festival” is a “celebration” and the captivating performances we’ve been to so far; we have already understood the concept. Halfway through the song, a musical interlude takes over when a flame dancer takes the stage. While performing daring feats, the stilt walkers demonstrate their one-legged dancing skills, both impressive. Nothing that one of these eclectic spectators does is easy, especially considering that these performances are repeated seven times a day.
What I find most about this vehicle is its ability to flow and flow effortlessly from one number to another. The non-stop score helps us move from one talented strength tour to the next, including a beautiful duet of Can You Feel the Love Tonight, sung by Nakawa and Kibibi, and accompanied by an exciting two-step. Both dancers are dressed in a bird-inspired fashion and their elegant movement seems more like flying than dancing. If there’s a hopeless romantic moment in this piece, it sure is.
Finally, the full cast returns to the scene from all angles for the grand finale (Circle of Life) followed by a very “nose” interpretation of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. In the fashion of traditional theme parks, we are encouraged to applaud and sing … and we do it with great pleasure!
Walt Disney World does not offer guests a program that cites the talented stage directors, choreographers and designers who helped bring the show to life. So allow us this opportunity to say that whoever was part of this creative team came up with a clear and concise vision. How easy it would have been to simply give only the highlights of The Lion King. On the contrary, we move away from an epic variety show that lets us feel high.
It must be remembered that his challenge is not small. They have to entertain the masses, who have been standing all day, under the hot Florida sun. Keeping energy alive in a huge auditorium full of seated patterns requires a lot of skill, with a keen eye on the rhythm.
Honorable mention for sound design, as the music and vocalists remain lively, without becoming excessive. And, unlike some audio-animatronics found in the parks (I look at you, Jack Sparrow), I never had to struggle to hear any ingenious answers.
The lighting design is just as impressive, though I’d like the theater to allow for a little more drama. My guess is that they are not allowed to use the use of a hard shutdown to further emphasize dramatic beats for security reasons. Fair enough.
All in all, I loved hearing what new life these performers breathe in these classic Elton John and Tim Rice shows. In addition, the theater’s focus on the round allows for real immersion.
It is curious to review this production, as if it were a new play. Meanwhile, it currently holds the title of being the longest running show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Here are twenty-three more years in the jungle!
Ted Wioncek III is an annual Walt Disney World journalist Passholdin’-D23 lovin’-DVC cardin ‘Thin Park Journalist, whose work has earned him a reputation as a “master of storytelling.” He specializes in theatrical review, food criticism, travel planning, and double-blind Dole Whip flavor testing. Ted lives in sunny Florida with his beautiful wife, Kimberly, and his adorable rescue beagle, affectionately named Professor Indiana Bones. You can contact him at TheRealTraderTed@gmail.com. You can also enjoy their tips for visiting the parks on their YouTube channel, The Disney Passport.