Las Vegas is a city of recreations, shamelessly mixing icons from other places into a veritable soup of sensationalism that has a flavor all its own. The things that are unique to the city tend to be unflattering, adorning the streets in the form of yard-long drinks or sun-scorched tourists with fanny-packs.
One Vegas import is keeping it real, though. Disney’s “The Lion King,” directed by Julie Taymor and onstage at Mandalay Bay until December of this year, is one of those blessed hybrids gracing our sun-stricken valley. Even a drag queen in zebra-striped tights would have a difficult time keeping up with life-size puppets, arresting dancing (with choreography by Garth Fagan) and vocals that are positively captivating. These histrionic elements, coupled with the familiarity of the storyline and the toe-tapping songs themselves (courtesy of Elton John and Time Rice), make for a show that will be sorely missed in seven months’ time.
The plot follows the lion Simba from cub-hood to king-hood, accompanied by the bird Zazu (Patrick Kerr) and future queen Nala (Nia Ashleigh and Lauryn Hardy). The performance from nose to tail runs more than two hours long, with an intermission midway through and only a few omissions from the original. Although this doesn’t follow the Vegas-show template, the loftier ticket price and established reputation make this decision a shrewd one.
The first act sees a devious uncle Scar (Thom Sesma) orchestrating the death of King Mufasa (Derrick Williams), falsely implicating young Simba (Tim Johnson Jr. and Zaire Adams) and tricking him into exile. In the second act, Nala (Kissy Simmons), a regal adult by this point, hunts down Simba (Jelani Remy) in an effort to save the Pride Lands that are being destroyed under Scar’s rule.
Supporting characters, including Scar’s pantheon of mangy hyenas and Simba’s hilarious, “no worries” sidekicks Timon (Aaron De Jesus) and Pumba (Adam Kozlowski), are as engaging as the main cast. The stage, a masterpiece in itself, also adds to the ambience by seamlessly transitioning from a breezy grassland to an elephant graveyard to a canyon rife with stampeding wildebeests. Two percussionists situated in the house are the cherries on top and the effect is absolutely engrossing.
The running time might be daunting for munchkins, but the theatrical quality of “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay is top-notch. For more information about the show, follow the link here. Tickets are available here — get them before they migrate back to the Savannah.