I was doubtful that anything could top Disney’s animated movie “The Lion King.” Yet, when the lights came up at the end of Broadway Atlanta’s live musical production of “The Lion King” at the Fox Theatre (running through Jan. 28) tears were streaming down my face. In short, if you haven’t seen the Broadway version, you are missing out!
I wasn’t sure if I wanted the show to go on forever or if I wanted to go tell everyone about the experience right that second. The show began with Rafiki (played by Buyi Zama) belting out the famous “Circle of Life,” joined by a diverse group of animals, ranging from a flock of birds to an elephant, all present to greet the newborn Simba. The stunning vocals and intricate costumes moved the audience, which erupted in applause and cheers at the end of the song. From the first note, everyone in the theatre was captivated. I know I was.
If you haven’t seen the movie or the Broadway performance, “The Lion King” is the story of a young lion, Simba, who struggles to cope with his father’s death and take his place in the circle of life. “The Lion King” movie was released in 1994 and the Broadway adaptation debuted in 1997. The musical largely stays true to the movie in terms of storyline. However, the addition of new jokes and songs enhance the story and kept an audience who probably knew the entire story by heart on their toes. (Another reason to go see the musical: Zazu sings “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” a replacement for “It’s A Small World” that was added in recent years.)
I grew up watching “The Lion King” movie, so I walked into the theatre expecting to enjoy the same classic story again. I had never seen a Broadway musical before, so I was excited that the first one I would see would be about one of my favorite Disney movies. What I wasn’t expecting was the depth of emotion the live performance brought to the story. Every single person in the cast was flawless. There was not one missed note, line or cue. More than that, the cast had me in tears before they’d finished their opening number! It’s worth noting that I rarely cry in movies or performances, but I simply couldn’t help it — the beauty I saw and heard on that stage was simply overwhelming.
One of my favorite scenes from the musical was not included in the original animated movie (I’m considering starting a petition to add it). After Simba’s unfortunate encounter with a trio of hyenas, Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) lectures Simba (Joziyah Jean-Felix of Brooklyn, New York, and Ramon Reed of Charlotte, North Carolina, alternating performances) for rushing headlong into a dangerous situation. The unconditional love Mufasa feels for his son was beautifully portrayed.
In “They Live in You,” Mufasa looks at Simba, seeing past kings living on through his son as well as the future in Simba’s paws. Mufasa tenderly gives his son advice, encouraging him that he will never be alone and that there is nothing Simba can’t accomplish. Gerald Ramsey’s incredible singing and masterful acting allowed everyone in the room to connect with his character, a father whose hope for the future lives on in his child. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person choking back tears during this scene.
Another deviation from the movie that was beautifully done was the introduction of Nala, not only as Simba’s love interest but as a strong, independent, loyal warrior in her own right. Nala (Nia Holloway) is instrumental in the effort to overthrow Simba’s uncle, Scar (Mark Campbell), and reintroduce peace and order to the savannah. In “Shadowland,” arguably one of my new favorite songs, Nala’s characterization as a strong female leader shines, as she pledges to take matters into her own paws and leave the pride to find a way to save her family and friends herself.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Simba sees his father’s ghost and finally regains confidence in himself. The Broadway interpretation of this scene did not disappoint! The stage darkens and small firefly-like lights shone, illuminating a large mask of Mufasa’s face and enhancing the impact of Simba’s revelation. Despite the many times I’ve watched the movie version of this scene, I got chills hearing “Remember who you are!” reverberate through the theatre.
As the actors took their final bows, everyone was on their feet, applauding and cheering. I asked a few of the teens who attended and were sitting near me what their impressions of the show were. Gabby, 14, smiled and replied, “It was good. I liked it!” McKenna, 15, thought it was “really great. It was very colorful and exciting. You never [knew] what [was] going to pop out next!” Kylie, 13, “thought the costumes were very creative.” When asked if they would recommend the performance to their fellow teens, the answer was an overwhelming yes. “Oh, totally!” McKenna replied. “It’s probably one of my favorites.”
If I had to sum up my experience with Broadway Atlanta’s “The Lion King” in one word, I’d call it inspiring. I think the line “Remember who you are!” rings true for so many teens, and Holloway’s advice to take life one step at a time is so relevant when the world can feel overwhelming at times. In the most hectic moments, a ghost showing up to reassure you might be a bit far-fetched, but remembering who you are, knowing what you stand for, and taking life one day at a time is timeless advice that will surely see you through.
Sydney, 17, is a junior at Woodward Academy who loves riding horses and competing in science tournaments.
VOX got to attend this performance thanks to the nonprofit Most Valuable Kids – Atlanta, which partners with local venues and nonprofits to provide experiences for Atlanta-area youth.