Everything is “Hakuna Matata” at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Center
The Lion King, the World’s #1 Musical, has clawed its way to Sarasota after premiering 22 years ago on Broadway! The Broadway production has grossed over a BILLION dollars, the highest grossing of all time. An incredible feat, but not too surprising considering the material they have to work with.
The music and lyrics are written by two of the greatest songwriters of our time, Elton John and Tim Rice. It is based on the 1994 Disney film, one of the greatest animated films.
Walking into Van Wezel on Friday night, there was a special feeling in the air! There was excitement in the lobby from the kids to the octogenarians waiting for the doors to open. There was barely an empty seat to be seen. Lion King merchandise from t-shirts to coffee cups were being snapped up by the SRQ audience. Everyone wanted to take a souvenir of the Lion King home.
The curtain raised to the powerhouse voice of Rafiki played by Buyi Zama, who has played the part on Broadway, London and around the world! A mesmerizing performer! Spencer Plachy is perfect as Scar, the evil brother of Mufasa with his trio of hyenas. He has appeared at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and on NBC’s “Shades of Blue”. Gerald Ramsey is the commanding and heartful King Mufasa, father of Simba. He was raised in American Samoa and was a polynesian dancer in Hawaii when he auditioned for The Lion King. There are the young Simba and Nala which are played by two different child actors, who are switched between different shows.
Jared Dixon makes his Lion King debut as the grown Simba who has learned some life lessons of the jungle. Nala played by newcomer Nia Holloway has a beautiful voice that shines with Dixon on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, which won the Oscar for best song in 1994. Comic relief is brought to you by Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa. The actors, Greg Jackson (Zazu), Ben Lipitz (Pumbaa) and Nick Cordileone (Timon) playing these parts are also working puppets, pulling double duty. They keep the humor going with a Sarasota mention in the play as well as a dig at Disney’s “Frozen”. The story of the “Circle of Life” is for everyone!
The costumes are masterpieces of art and some of the most creative that are seen on the stage. Actors who intertwine with various animal designs to create the illusion of living animals with their movements are mind-bending. The masks that are worn by Mufasa, Simba and others are hand-painted and weigh just ounces. Lighting is at a premium with brilliant stage sets. Percussionists are posted on both sides of the stage to keep the beat and the orchestra works its magic from the mysterious pit. Dancing and gymnastics are an essential part of this musical and have some of the best original movements. There is a cast of over 50 with the principal actors and the ensemble who provide many of the incredible moments of the show!
Sarasota is lucky to have The Lion King for 3 weeks through March 31st at The Van Wezel! There are tickets still available for the last week, although check with the box office as cancellations can happen. This is a not to miss opportunity to see the best of Broadway right at your front door! Click here for tickets.
Photos by Deen van Meer
1994 Disney film, Ben Lipita, Broadway, Buyi Zama, Circle of Life, Deen van Meer, Elton John, Gerald Ramsey, Greg Jackson, Jared Dixon, Mufasa, Nala, Nia Holloway, Nick Cordileone, Pumbaa, Rafiki, Scar, Simba, Spencer Plachy, The Lion King, Tim Rice, Timon, Vicky Sullivan, World's #1 Musical, Zazu