Review: The Lion King Is the Pride of The Morrison Center 

Before Disney’s The Lion King could take center stage at The Morrison Center in Boise, the auditorium was redesigned to accommodate its choreography—a good indicator of the scale and magnitude of the production. On the Oct. 18 opening night, the audience was giddy even before the glowing, symbol-splashed curtain rose. Applause filled the room as the lights went down, and apart from the musical’s tender and dramatic moments, almost never stopped.

The story of The Lion King has been beloved since Disney released its 1994 animated classic, which has its roots in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and soon became the highest-grossing production on Broadway. But while the tale is the stuff of childhood legend, it's the intricate puppets, carefully designed costumes and mind-blowing sets that put the stage production in another league. The audience was immediately immersed on Oct. 18, starting when giant elephants and rhinos (puppets supported by multiple actors) lumbered up the side aisles to join giraffes, cheetahs and stamping zebras on stage for “Circle of Life.” Adding to the drama, much of the performance took place in mid-air: For fight scenes and songs like “Be Prepared,” the actors scrambled and leaped across towering set pieces, including Pride Rock and a larger-than-life elephant skeleton.

It’s difficult to describe the magical marriage of actor and animal that The Lion King pulled off. When the lions snarled, their masks dropped from above their heads to hover in front of their faces, adding a pall of menace to the air, and when the meerkat Timon cavorted in the jungle, his green-clad puppeteer melted into the background. But it’s easy to say that the added songs fit seamlessly into the well-worn story, and the sneaked-in pop-culture jokes—including a Frozen reference and a well-placed line from the hornbill Zazu about his “annoying brother that’s constantly tweeting”—were perfectly timed.

When it comes to acting chops, 11-year-old Salahedin Safi stole the show with his energetic performance of young Simba. Not only were his antics a delight to watch, his voice and inflections were nearly identical to those of voice actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played Simba in the 1994 animated film. That attention to detail helped turned The Lion King into a world for all ages to get lost in, even if just for a night.
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