The cast of Disney’s “The Lion King Las Vegas” seized the moment and put on a cabaret-style show at E String Grill & Poker Bar in Henderson on Dec. 6.”The Moment,” as the show was titled, was dedicated to Brenda O’Brien, who is a makeup artist for “The Lion King Las Vegas,” or LKLV. Members of the cast and the creative team joined forces and produced the show as a way to celebrate the talent and creativity of all of those involved in LKLV, whether they are onstage each night or not.
Matthew Morgan, who plays the hyena Banzai and is a member of the ensemble, acted as the informal emcee for the night, hopping on and off the stage and teasing the audience and the performers in equal measure.
Singer-songwriter Niles Rivers (Simba and ensmble) started the performances in brilliant style with a well-strummed guitar and an open, inviting voice, heralding the sincerity of numbers to come.
Adam Kozlowski (Pumbaa), pictured left, continued the sincerity with a warm rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” coupled with a personality-steeped “I Got Rhythm” and a ukelele. The gregarious man that plays the gregarious warthog sang and scatted and demonstrated the extroverted sociability that makes the character such a hit.
Michael Hollick (Pumbaa, Scar) joined Kozlowski later in the show for cheek-to-cheek, and tongue-in-cheek, duet of “Gossamer” and “Just Arrived from Thunder Road.” The unfeigned enjoyment emanating from each was contagious and undeniable.
Robbie Swift, who plays Pumbaa’s meerkat wingman Timon in addition to Zazu, the royal attendant, followed in appropriate sidekick fashion. Contrary to the strutting, self-satisfied characters he plays, Swift presented an understated, quietly sincere set of numbers that underscored the diversity of the cast.
The first behind-the-scenes revelation came with Meredith Walker, a makeup artist from the show dressed in vibrant purple. She and Damian Baldet (Timon) sang the playful “Wet Mouth Punch,” smiling sidelong at each other through the good-natured parody. Andrew Arrington (Banzai, swing) was decked out in drag and continued the comedic kick with “Try a Little Tenderness,” an exaggerated and exuberant number that added diversity to the show.
Concertmaster and first chair violin Rebecca Ramsey, along with second cellist Moonlight Tran and upright and electric bassist Keith Nelson, serenaded the audience wonderfully while the set of the stage was changed. Seeing the performers that are normally only heard was a welcome bonus, and the music was far from commonplace.
Michael Manly, a plaid-wearing French horn player, also emerged from the orchestra pit and delivered a dry, witty monologue about Thanksgiving and “dysfunctional family relations.” His clipped voice, together with small, wire-rimmed glasses, gave the impression of a wry, witty and pleasantly sarcastic relative that would not have been out of place at a Thanksgiving table.
Corwin Hodge and Deidrea Halley, both swings in the show, showcased a ubiquitous attribute of each of the cast members: the unwavering ability to communicate with an audience. Hodge and Halley both projected a vulnerability that made way for unadulterated emotion to step forth. This, coupled with the obvious experience of the cast, was part of what made “The Moment” so appealing.
Devin Roberts continued in this vein with “Little Drummer Boy,” a song he said he has come to love because of the idea of giving the best that can be offered despite having little.
In addition to the vocals, dance made an appearance as well. Tyrell Rolle (pictured left, kneeling), Derrick Davis, Donna Vaughn, Devin Roberts and Zachary Ingram performed “Silence Moments,” choreographed by Rolle, and brought a sense of gratitude and faith to the stage.
In the second act, Saleemah Knight (pictured right, forward) choreographed “I Still Love You,” an emotional jazz funk number that leaned in an almost lyrical direction with its perceptive musicality. Both Rolle and Knight did an excellent job of using the space available to them and took advantage of the close proximity of the audience. Professionalism was evident in the committed performance of both pieces.
“Four Women” was a sensual number to Nina Simone’s song of the same name and represented a nod to another side of African culture — oppression. Knight, Halley, Vaughn and another ensemble member embodied the self-contained solemnity imbued by the lyrics of the song. The femininity and staid grace was a sobering reminder of, as the song states, “the pain inflicted again and again.”
Rivers tipped his fedora to the younger cast members, taking an opportunity to bring Aubrey Joseph and Tim Johnson Jr. to the stage. Both boys play Young Simba in the show and sang along with Rivers in an optimistic song he had written specifically for the upcoming generation.
Derrick Davis (Mufasa and ensemble) joined Rivers in his vision of the future and brought audience members to their feet with “Moving Forward.” Davis’ looming frame, full-bodied voice poured forth, bringing the energy in the house to a peak just before intermission.
The essence of LKLV was showcased by Kissy Simmons (Nala) and Noku Khuzwayo, Mdu Madela, Buti Mothamana, Buyi Zama, Sindisiwe Nxumalo, Ntsepa Pitjeng, Gugu Ngcobo and Vusi Sondiyazi. Simmons’ soaring voice, coupled with the African dress and vocals of the rest of the group, summed up “The Moment” well. The percussive bead skirts worn by the girls and the stunning harmonies reminded the audience that, as much as the cast joked with each other, show business is something that each takes very seriously.
The drawbacks of the show were very few. The more than two-hour running time was daunting, although the relaxed atmosphere mitigated this considerably. The feeling of family was undeniable and both the individuality and cohesiveness of the cast was incredible. Hopefully this will become a serial event and these talented performers will be seen somewhere besides Pride Rock.