The visual spectacle is just as great, the singing just as glorious, the African rhythms and lush harmonies just as intoxicating. And the kids, young and old, are just as taken in by the story.
The difference between seeing “The Lion King” at the Orpheum on Thursday night with a crowd of 2,300, and seeing is six years ago, the first time it came to Omaha, is that more of the audience now knows this blockbuster by heart.
They know to arrive early, so they won't be stuck out in the lobby during “The Circle of Life,” the glorious parade of animals down the aisles that starts the show. They know to turn and look and not miss a second of it.
They applaud almost before some of the eye-popping scenes unfold. And there are many: tall-grass savannahs, jungle plants, an elephant graveyard, a night sky full of stars, a sunrise — no, two.
I had forgotten some of the clever visual tricks like the wildebeest stampede, the waterfall and the appearance of lion king Mufasa's ghost to his grown-up son, Simba. And just how ingenious it is the way director Julie Taymor's puppetry is used to tell this animal-kingdom story with human actors.
The two greatest assets of “The Lion King” are its visual splendor — scenery, costumes, lighting, makeup — and the Elton John-Tim Rice pop-rock score rooted in some of the authentic sounds of Africa.
But the show doesn't sail without strong actors, singers and dancers, and there's no shortage in this cast.
This has to be one of the hardest-working choruses of any Broadway tour, with a ton of costume changes. This particular gang really delivers in the big song-and-dance moments.
Principal actors, too, were strong top to bottom. Dionne Randolph, as Mufasa, and Timothy Carter, as his malevolent brother Scar, brought authority and stage presence to their warring roles at the top of the food chain.
Zavion Hill and Kailah McFadden charmed as young Simba and female lion cub Nala, while Jelani Remy and Syndee Winters added sex appeal and standout voices as their older versions in the second act.
Great comic relief came from Nick Cordileone as wisecracking meerkat Timon and Ben Lipitz as flatulent warthog Pumbaa, Simba's best pals. Mark David Kaplan also scored lots of laughs as Zazu, the brightly colored tropical bird who is Mufasa's major domo.
A personal favorite: Nteliseng Nkhela as wise old primate Rafiki, who serves as a sort of tribal shaman. Nkhela's opening cry of “Nants Ingonyama” filled the theater with electricity. She was equally effective singing the mournful “Nao Tse Tsa” at the death of Mufasa. You really felt what she was singing, and she got an extra-loud cheer at curtain call.
If you're wondering whether this is worth the price of a ticket, Hakuna Matata. It's a solid tour.
Omaha Performing Arts says tickets are still available, particularly for Tuesday and Wednesday of the show's last week here (April 2, 3) and the evening show on Easter Sunday.
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