I've seen The Lion King five times, on Broadway and on tour. I wrote about it in a feature this week, describing how a successful but not terribly profound animated Disney feature became a stage musical that's a worldwide phenomenon. A touring production is at the Aronoff through April 26; it's the third time the show has landed in Cincinnati.
Rather than evaluate the performers — who are highly talented and extremely polished in their presentation of the show — I decided to pay attention to the visuals this time around. It was worth it. The Lion King has the most inspiring opening of any show I've seen: A call and response between Rafiki, a nervous mandrill and two others brings together a clutch of African animals to Pride Rock where a regal pair of lions, King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi are presenting their new cub. The animals enter the theater from all directions — from the stage wings and down the Aronoff's aisles, enabling the audience to see the actors in their puppet gear up close as they sing "The Circle of Life." It's a great way to begin the show's magic.
But it's only the start: There is color and pageantry to burn in this story — from a colony of loony hyenas to a fatal stampede of antelopes. The second act opens with the chorus dressed in colorful clothes with ornate puppet birds and kites sing "One on One." I was reminded of the wonderful South African choral groups that inspired Cincinnati audiences during the World Choir games in 2012 — passionate harmonizing and heart-thumping rhythms. From start to finish, The Lion King is a remarkable experience. If you've seen it once, it's worth going again to appreciate new dimensions of this gorgeous production. Tickets: 513-621-2781.
Two good shows onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend, and they couldn't be more different from one another. It's the final weekend for Peter and the Starcatcher
) a prequel to Peter Pan
that elaborates in a fanciful way about the origins of the boy who refuses to grow up, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell and more. It's driven by imaginative theater-making — instead of special effects, audiences are called upon to envision things like storms brewing and characters flying. A great show for families. … On the Shelterhouse stage it's serious drama with Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer
), the story of three people moving into a redeveloping urban neighborhood. It feels like Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. Tensions spurred by changing populations provide context for this story, but it's really about the toxic dynamic between an up-and-coming black attorney, his white schoolteacher girlfriend and his white boyhood pal who's led a troubled life. A strong cast and Wilson's naturalistic dialogue make this a very watchable (but very adult) show. This one is onstage through April 19
. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Know Theatre opened it's production of the comic-book inspired Hearts Like Fists
last weekend. It's a two-dimensional tale of girl crime fighters battling a dastardly villain, Doctor X, who's murdering lovers — since his own love life is in shambles. There's humor but not a lot of depth to this one, but if you like slam-bang action stories, you'll love the fight choreography and the silly posing of the characters. It's around until April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669
… A block away from Know in Over-the-Rhine, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is winding down its production of Detroit ’67
), set in a tumultuous era in the Motor City as a brother and sister struggle to make a living while the world around them is burning. Although it's rooted in events from nearly a half-century ago, this one has some very prescient messages that seem like they're about more recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday
. Tickets: 513-421-3555
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.