Review: The Lion King (Broadway in San Francisco)

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This past weekend was the opening night of Disney's The Lion King, and we'd first like to tell you that attendance is mandatory. Regardless of anything else in this review, or anything you may read in any other review for that matter, The Lion King is absolutely and undeniably not to be missed -- by you, your children, or any of your friends and family. This has been a public service announcement from the Foundation for Spreading Unbelievable Amounts of Joy.*

(*Definitely not a real foundation, but probably should be.)

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Within the first five minutes of curtain we were already shedding tears. Full on friggin' drops of water were coming out of our face from the mere spectacle and stunning beauty of the opening number. The ingenuity and masterful artistry of the costumes, inspiring choreography, and intricate, spiritual vocal arrangement took our breath away. The music alone is inspiring enough: Elton John, hello? But the theatrical elements, performance, and incredible talent of the cast elevated the production to an incomparable level.

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Our hands-down absolute favorite of this show is Rafiki. In the cartoon, Rafiki is a loveable, goofy character who provides sage advice and slapstick relief. On the Orpheum stage, she has been transformed into a powerful guide that weaves the show together with heart-bursting song, adorable antics, and touching sincerity. Played by Buyi Zama, a native of the Kwa-Mashu district in Durban, South Africa, Rafiki picks up the audience in her claw-fingered hand and places them delicately in her trinket-covered pocket, where they stay for the entire show.

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Zama's voice is at times an epic cry born deep within her body, filling the theater with relentless strength and power, and at other times releases a gentle mimicry of the spiritual melodies of a pipe flute. She brings the audience to tears and back to laughter with a simple flick of her staff. Her mourning song with young Nala and Simba's mother had us clutching our heart strings lest they be pulled completely from our chests.

The young cubs in the show were not only cute as hell, but impressively talented as well. Simba's (Adante Power) physicality as a young and overeager lion cub is convincing, creative, and awww-inspiring. The relationship between Simba and tough but vulnerable Nala (Sade Phillip-Demorcy) is just as, if not more, endearing than the animation. When the two stumbled into trouble at the frightening elephant graveyard, we had to fight the urge to run to the stage to protect their adorable hides.

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Adult Nala, played by Syndee Winters, was another of our absolute favorites from the show. Our notes from the evening included an enthusiastically scrawled, "OMG Nala. Fuck off, Beyonce!" With strength and class, Winters' portrayal of Nala is an unrelenting protector and shepherdess of her pride -- a devoted and unflinching representation for her family in the face of evil. The song, "Remember My Pride" was our favorite number in the show and will be added to our late-night, belligerently drunk, top-of-our-lungs, solo-karaoke playlist very shortly.

The remainder of the team, creative, leads, and ensemble alike, came together to present a truly inspiring production. From the leaping gazelle-wheel machines to the waving grass dances of the savannah, every choreographed movement was executed with precision and beauty, invoking an intricate sense of space and time with minimal scenery. We've never seen such sexy hyenas, nor have we ever loved grass so much.

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While we would love to go down the list of every individual cast member and shout their glory from the twin-peaks-tops, we'll save you the overuse of words like awesome, inspiring, amazing, stunning and ... too late, you say? Well, it cannot be helped.

Get your tickets now, thank us later. See you on the savannah.

The Lion King continues through Jan. 13 at the Orpheum, 1182 Market (at Hyde), S.F. Admission is $50-$190.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Jamie McKenzie on Twitter @pocket_full. 
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