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Disney’s The Lion King is back in LA for a limited engagement over the holidays! Being an ardent Disney fan (and former employee) I just had to see this legendary show one more time (having seen it previously in LA during high school) so I grabbed my dad and caught the Tuesday, December 3rd evening performance at the Pantages Theatre.
Before the 7:30 curtain, I was ravenous and introduced my dad to one of Sunset Blvd.’s best quick service restaurants — Tender Greens. We arrived at 5:45 and there was hardly a queue. I ordered my usual – butternut soup ($4) and a side of mac ‘n cheese ($4). This is the perfect comfort food on a chilly autumn evening before catching a Broadway show at the Pantages Theatre. Dad ordered their chicken hot plate which comes with mashed potatoes and a side salad ($11).
Butternut Soup © Joy Michelle
Considering the location, the quality of the food (freshly made and prepared to order), the options (you can’t find mashed potatoes, for instance, at Panera Bread or Corner Bakery Cafe), the ambiance (very modern and hip), and service (big friendly smiles from helpful employees eager to answer any questions you might have) it is a great deal for a pre-show meal.
Mac ‘N Cheese © Joy Michelle

I really think they might have one of the best mac ‘n cheese offerings EVER! In my book, they are tied with TASTE’s White Truffle Oil and Mushroom Mac ‘n Cheese. As my dad said, it is not too cheesy or sweet. And the breadcrumbs on top are a perfect touch! Yum Yum.

So with our bellies full, we walked back up Vine St. to the Pantages and joined a very excited crowd of theatre patrons. For a Tuesday night, the house (on the orchestra floor) was probably 90% full with a mix of young and old. Children, in my opinion, bring a special kind of magic to any Disney show and last night was no exception with the little oohs and awwws.

One fun highlight is that in the main floor lobby (between the two center aisle doors) there is a display of 4 original masks from the Las Vegas production of The Lion King. The masks up close and personal are a-mazing! The detail and the artistry is mind boggling even today, 16 years after the original production made its debut. When you visit the Pantages, this is a definite must see.

Dad and yours truly with the beautiful Julie Taymor masks. © Joy Michelle
At 7:15, with only 15 minutes until curtain, my dad and I made our way to our seats in the orchestra right section on the aisle. Perfect view from our seats of the breathtaking production and the special musicians performing from the wings. You will definitely want to get their early to see the stage up close, check out the musicians’ setup, and admire the Pantages’ architecture and design.
Dad and yours truly in our seats © Joy Michelle

We were delighted to see the show start on time with an announcement that both Nala and Sarabi would be played by understudies. Unfortunately there were no inserts in the playbills but I am 99% sure that our Nala for the evening was performed by Themebelihle Cele (great accent and adorable interactions with Jelani Remy, as Simba).

And suddenly there was Brown Lindiwe Mkhize (Rafiki) on stage belting out the opening bars of Circle of Life and the magic begins! Actors (who double as stilt walkers, puppeteers, you name it!) start filling the auditorium as the song builds to a crescendo and you find yourself sitting up higher in your seat pinching yourself in wonderment. I had goose bumps! And based on the enthusiastic applause from the audience at every song and scene, the thrill was felt universally by the theatre goers.

No number can compete with Circle of Life but definite highlights were: They Live in You (featuring the show’s best vocal performance by L. Steven Taylor), He Lives in You (featuring the strong vocals of Ms. Mkhize), and Endless Night (featuring the talented Jelani Remy).

L. Steven Taylor as Mafusa in The Lion King © Joan Marcus

As a whole, the show was spectacular from start to finish. It is truly an ensemble piece and the cast blended well together to make one magical evening from start to finish. Energy was tops, dancing was flawless, comedy was spot on with every joke earning major chuckles from the audience (including one about today’s economy), and those little moments (i.e. Sarabi’s mourning of Mufasa) left you choking back tears. The audience was on our feet the moment the final bar of music was played and the standing ovation was well deserved of everyone in the cast and orchestra.

I cannot recommend seeing The Lion King highly enough during its brief stay here in Los Angeles or further on when the show visits your hometown. You will be left with goosebumps, tears of joy and a belief in the magic of theatre and good music. GO, GO, GO!

The 4-1-1:

Location: The Pantages
Dates: Now through January 12th

The one disappointment:
Having been around since 1997, many people know the music and magic of The Lion King whether they’ve seen the show themselves or heard from friends and relatives. That said, in 2010, 9 minutes of the show was cut including an entire song, The Morning Report, that allowed for character development of Young Simba, Zazu and Mufasa, and a large portion from Scar’s second act number, The Madness of King Scar, without which you were left lost and unable to identify with the “madness” per say.  I understand the need to save time but were those the right spots to cut? If it had been my first time to see The Lion King I would have been somewhat confused as to plot and character development. As it was, I felt robbed of key musical moments I loved in the original production.

But I shouldn’t get started on my feelings about “cut” numbers. 😉 The worst “cut” imaginable has to be Grantaire’s Drink with Me from Les Miserables. I still cry hearing the new version. And not for a good reason! 🙂