Tag: J. Anthony Crane
Another year, another 12 months of great Chicago theater! 2015 blessed Chicagoland with inspired new works and riveting revivals from a wide range of companies – the largest equity houses to the smallest of the city’s storefronts. Taking into account the 700+ productions that were produced in the Windy City over the last year, here are our reviewer’s picks for the best of the best. Bravo!!
In a theater community as diverse and talented as Chicago’s, every aspect and genre of stage productions can be found throughout the city on a given week. 2015 was no exception to this fact, as one can see from our reviewers’ picks of the year’s greatest and most memorable works.
Lion King roars into Chicago
|Broadway in Chicago and Disney Theatricals present|
|The Lion King|
|Music/Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice
Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Directed by Julie Taymor
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago (map)
through November 27| tickets: $25-$148 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Not that my opinions would matter much to him, but way to go Elton John. After a storied career of penning pop music classics, he has had a major hand in crafting two of the most important musicals of the last 20 years. Lucky for us, at this moment both of the shows are currently playing in Chicago. I’ll admit, I’m still scrounging around for tickets to Billy Elliot (our review ★★★½) before the recently imposed final night (hint, hint). So I can’t really speak of its brilliance. However, due to the crates of Tonys it won, I’m going to assume it’s alright. I can speak to The Lion King, which combines John’s pop sensibilities, Disney, and the artistic madness of Julie Taymor. It is a transformative theatrical experience. As proven by the production shacking up at the Cadillac Palace, it’s a game-changing show even after the original production opened over ten years ago.
The show has visited Chicago several times, just as it has toured pretty much everywhere in the world since the late ‘90s. If you’ve seen the show before, cut me some slack because this was my first time. I do know that if you already love the beloved musical, you’ll love this production. The cast fills the house with heart, and the puppetry, massive spectacle, and thundering music are gasp-inducing. Seeing the show as a Lion King virgin, all of my issues stem from the conceptual gears driving the production.
The dialogue is more or less completely lifted from the 1994 animated feature, so there isn’t much difference between stage and screen in terms of story. The variance, as well as the magic, comes out in the execution. The original work relied on brilliant animation, classical themes of family and power, John’s ability to carve out chart-topping songs, and our perceived regality of the natural world. Apparently, when Disney first brainstormed a stage version, they were thinking of full-body, mascot-style costumes. Then came Taymor (thank god). With a resume featuring opera, training with Jacques Lecoq, and loads of experience with non-Western theatrical stylings, Taymor figured that the feline-focused franchise needed an existential reboot for the stage. The final product was an intellectually-complex puppet show that was (and continues to be) wildly popular, still selling at nearly 100% on Broadway, even after all these years.
This Chicago cast is clearly having a lot of fun with the ensemble-based show. Dionne Randolph’s Mufasa is a memorable performance, capturing all the grandeur a king of the savannah should have. J. Anthony Crane is devilishly suave as the malevolent Scar, a great foil to Mufasa’s strict views of morality. Simba, as he grows from cub to adult, is played by two actors, as well as several puppets. The youngsters (either Jemone Stephens, Jr. or Kolton Stewart, depending on the night) playing the character in the first act do a fine job, and Adam Jacobs, who takes over for the final half, embodies the youthful honesty needed for the role. My favorite part of the show was Tony Freeman’s Zazu. Your eye switches quickly from the bird puppet to Freeman as actor; both are equally expressive.
Taymor’s epic vision seems a bit disconnected at times. The overall grandeur of the production at times doesn’t quite gel with certain aspects, like the lowbrow comedy courtesy of Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). The huge puppetry for the three chief hyenas, another gaggle of comic relief, comes off as overblown. The show abounds with humor (Freeman, for example), but they could marry it to the concept better. There are also some jarring aspects in the score due to John’s pop sensibilities not blending well with the African drum breaks written in by Lebo M. The transitions fail to meld the two disparate parts.
However, there are a number of moments where the amazing spectacle on-stage washes over the audience. You leave the theatre with a renewed sense of wonder. Simba’s story is relatable, but unique, and the music is terrific. All those long hours the cast and crew spent cranking out puppets and learning how to walk like a cheetah bore a creation that will be known as one of the landmark shows of our generation.