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‘The Lion King’
Broadway blockbuster to make Alabama debut

By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer

pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Dozens of lions are headed to Birmingham to put on one of the biggest shows ever — but it won't be at the zoo or circus.

Futhi Mhlongo as Rafiki in “The Lion King”opening number “The Circle of Life.”
Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus
Futhi Mhlongo as Rafiki in “The Lion King”opening number “The Circle of Life.”
Forty-five performances of "The Lion King," a long-running Broadway musical and Disney theatrical production, will be presented in the concert hall of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (formerly Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center) for six weeks starting Sept. 9.

This is the largest theatrical production ever to play Birmingham, according to David Barry, marketing director for the Birmingham Broadway Series. About 125 people travel with the show, and at one point 45 performers are on stage.

The show includes huge, expressive masks created by award-winning director and designer Julie Taymor and team, along with more than 200 puppets. The 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects feature representations of 18-foot-tall giraffes, a 13-foot-long elephant that collapses to go down the theater aisle, 39 hyenas and 52 wildebeests.

The lionesses in the haunting “Shadowland.”
Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus
The lionesses in the haunting “Shadowland.”
Barry said the hall will be modified a bit to make room for the procession of animals. "This popular Broadway touring production travels in 23 semi-trucks, while 'Phantom of the Opera,' the other mega-show on the road that was here for four weeks five years ago, travels in 16 trucks," he said.

The story begins as the animals gather at Pride Rock, where Mufasa, the Lion King, and his queen introduce their newborn son, Simba. His resentful, wicked uncle, Scar, who wants to be the next king, plots the deaths of Mufasa and Simba. The typical good-versus-evil plot, set in the jungle with animals, follows, along with battles for power and girl-meets-boy and boy-saves-friend scenes.

Like the animated film version, it includes five songs by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, such as "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," "The Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata." However, several more songs were added for the stage version, including soulful melodies by South African songwriter Lebo M., whose own life is mirrored in the story.

Actor Thomas Corey Robinson, who plays Mufasa, said in a telephone interview between shows in Baltimore that "The Lion King" holds a lot of instructions for both children and adults.

"Every time I hit the stage, I'm teaching a lesson," he said. "I try to prepare my son Simba for the throne by teaching him that everything exists in a delicate balance, and if you disturb that balance, chaos results."

While wearing a huge mechanical lion head on top of his own, he teaches "the lessons of life, of celebration, of living in the moment, understanding who you are and where you come from and that you have a responsibility to the community around you and to yourself," he said.

"It tells children they must listen to their parents, because they are responsible for them becoming productive members of society."

Robinson said Simba learns all this through his journey toward manhood and later realizes that his dad taught him everything he needed to know when he was young.

His favorite part is early in the show when he presents his cub Simba to the animals. "It's kind of like a christening, and I look out over the audience and see all these emotions — smiles, tears, applause — and I realize the audience at that moment has been transported to the Savannah of South Africa."

Robinson's other favorite time is when his son asks him if they'll always be pals and always be together. "I say 'right,' but I mean spiritually, not physically," he said. "This beautiful show really speaks to the spirit, to the heart and soul."

Robinson, who is from South Carolina and once performed in "Guys and Dolls" at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, is ready to spend some time in a Southern city again. He makes Los Angeles his home but has been on the road since February 2002 as one of the original cast members of the East Coast touring company of "The Lion King."

"This is a musical unlike any other," Robinson said. "It's so visually appealing, and so much crafting went into it, that it's a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience."

How to go

What: "The Lion King" touring theatrical production

Where: Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Concert Hall

When: Sept. 9-Oct. 16, with Tuesday through Saturday evening performances at 8, Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday performances at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: $25 to $75, with a premium package for $125; call Ticketmaster, (800) 277-1700 or (205) 715-6000, or go online, www.ticketmaster.com

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