The Column Online



(National Tour)
Music and Lyrics by Elton John & Tim Rice
Book by Roger Allers & Irene Mecchi

Dallas Summer Musicals

Directed by Julie Taymor
Music Director – James Dodgson
Choreographer – Garth Fagan
Scenic Design – Richard Hudson
Lighting Design – Donald Holder
Costume Design – Julie Taymor
Sound Design – Steve Canyon Kennedy
Mask & Puppet Design – Julie Taymor & Michael Curry
Orchestrators – Robert Elhai & David Metzger

CAST (for reviewed performance)
Mukelisiwe Goba – Rafiki
Gerald Ramsey – Mufasa
Kimber Spawl – Sarabi
Tony Freeman – Zazu
Mark Campbell – Scar
Ramon Reed – Young Simba
Gloria Manning – Young Nala
Martina Sykes – Shenzi
Keith Bennett – Banzai
Robbie Swift – Ed
Nick Cordileone – Timon
Ben Lipitz – Pumbaa
Jared Dixon – Simba
Nia Holloway – Nala

Ensemble Singers – Derek Adams, Kyle R. Banks, Thabani Buthelezi, Thembelihle Cele, Jalen Harris, William James Jr., Nhlanhla Ndlovu, Aaron Nelson, Phindile Nyandeni, Yael Pineda-Hall, Mpume Sikakane, Kimber Sprawl, Jennifer Theriot

Ensemble Dancers – Kayla Rose Aimable, Eric Bean, Jr., Sasha Caicedo, Erynn Marie Dickerson, Jane King, Gregory Manning II, Jordan Samuels, Sade Simmons, Kevin Tate, Courtney Thomas, Shacura Wade

Touring Orchestra

James Dodgson – Conductor
Danny White – Associate Conductor/Keyboard 1
Paul McCaffrey – Assistant Conductor/Keyboard
Victor Simonson – Keyboard 2
Michael Brown – Bass
Phil Martin – Drums
Mike Faue – Marimba
Stefan Monssen – Percussion
Reuven Weizberg – Percussion
Darlene Drew – Flutes
Michael Keller – Music Coordinator

Local Musicians

Nancy Jarrett Piper – French Horn
Hoe Lee – Guitar
John Osborne – Orchestra Contractor

Reviewed Performance: 6/14/2018

Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Last night the audience went wild at The Music Hall at Fair Park for Disney’s The Lion King. The audience exuded an energy that was felt throughout the auditorium and beyond. The buzz as they walked to the parking lot signaled not only a well-down performance, but a memory that will last a life-time for both children and adults alike.

The Lion King premiered on November 13, 1997 on Broadway and has moved forward with 25 global productions and has been seen by more than 95 million people around the world. The Lion King worldwide has grossed more than any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history.

The Lion King tells the redemptive story of Simba as he journeys through the Pride Lands and jungle to fight for his land and family. Through the death of loved ones and betrayal of family, Simba finds friendship in the most unusual place, and eventually returns to Pride Rock to stand up for what is right.

From the opening scene of the animals arriving at Pride rock to welcome Simba, to the encore of the animals arriving to welcome the child of Simba and Nala, the Circle of Life is not only fully represented, but awe-inspiring.

Director Julie Taymor and Musical Director James Dodgson have created a climax of emotion through The Lion King, which not only produces an amazing show, but one that entices the viewer to live differently because of what they have been a part of. This show was not only casted perfectly, but the harmony of each element was astonishing.

Garth Fagan’s choreography was hands down out of this world. In “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” each element of this care-free number showed joy through the movements across the stage. In “Be Prepared” the sheer number of bodies on the stage seemed overwhelming which is needed as Scar gains power, but they stage never felt small. Fagan was able to design this number with every individual making up the bigger picture and feeling larger than life and powerful. In “Circle of Life” the grace of each dancer is highlighted through the choreography which not only highlights the strength of the cast, but also the beauty of each individual animal.

Scenic Design by Richard Hudson was intricate and elaborate. The set was in constant motion, but flowed smoothly from one scene to the next. The Elephant graveyard by far was done with care and direction to not only the choreography that was needed within the scene, but also to hold true to the visual expectation of the audience. Pride Rock’s design allowed not only for so much visual movement which enhanced the script, but provided a depth that made Pride Rock larger than the stage could hold. Through the use of multiple backdrops, each held multiple roles, which allowed Holder to use his magic to create many elements within the sets. While the rising sun was crinkled at the beginning (and fixed by the end), every other element was perfect. Especially the Gorge where through multiple layers of sets provided the audience with awe and wonder of the vast land mass that filled the stage. Hudson created the base for the rest of the show and impacted the musical in a way that no other one could.

Donald Holder’s Lighting Design enhanced the musical. Not only did the lighting designate tone and mood of each scene, but it held the emotional undertones of the musical that brought the musical into the next realm of enjoyment. Holder’s strongest suit though of his design was the ability to give the set so many different views based on not only coloring of lights, but the location of lights to bring forth shadows, silhouettes, and highlighting each element of the musical. The opening scene highlighted this perfectly as the sunrise felt real and looked like the ones on the back of a cruise ship perfecting every beautiful color that occurs, red, orange, yellow, and the blue as life is awakened. When in The Jungle, the green overtures were perfectly highlighted to show the lush vegetation. Yet it was in “He Lives in You” that the lighting opened up the doors for Mufasa to once again give guidance to Simba. Holder produced a magical element that made the show for me.

Julie Taymor’s costume designs were impeccable. Each animal was not only dressed in vibrant colors, but the design elements provided a texture that the audience not only saw, but could feel. The animals were ingenious and stunning. The elephant was a show stopper and the audible gasp from the audience showed the power of this animal and set the stage for the rest of the show. Rafiki was dressed in a way that provided her not only with the whimsical nature of her character, but the honor she deserved. Scar was ferocious in his red toned garments, while Mufasa spoke of royality in his lighter coloring. Pumba was by far my favorite costume. Through the design elements of his structure his movements swayed carefree and perfectly depicted his personality. Zazu the bird, while a puppet, allowed for the actor to be dressed in a pin-striped suit which reeked of honor and power.

Julie Taymor and Michael Curry also designed the Masks and Puppets which brought the animals to life. While each animal was specifically unique, they all had the same qualities as their live counterparts. The masks highlighted each of these spectacular creatures and brought them to life on the stage. The puppets were highlighted through spotlight to show action that was not performed by live actors, but created an experience that delighted the audience.

Steve Canyon Kennedy with Sound design created a perfect ensemble to fit within the theater. Each and every element was executed with precision. The sounds of both the Pride Lands and Jungle brought the stage into reality and incorporated the audience into the performance.

Mukelisiwe Goba as Rafiki was not what I had imagined coming from the animated version of the movie, but instead far surpassed all notions one has of this guiding character. Goba’s vocals were strong and powerful in “Nants Ingonyama” which highlights Rafiki’s soulful connection to the animals and land. Goba produces a Rafiki which highlights counselor, guide, and most importantly the playful side that Simba needs. Goba exudes joy and love and this shined through her performance.

Mufasa, Gerald Ramsey, portrayed this king magestically. Ramsey’s poise and diction showed not only his regal title, but quite easily switched to daddy role with Simba to picking him up and smiling from ear to ear. In “They Live in You” Ramsey awed the audience with his amazing vocals. Ramsey owned this role and perfected this strong leader.

Sarabi, played by Kimber Spawl, stood with perfect posture and never faltered her status even to Scar. Spawl’s inflections and facial expressions showed both her nurturing side as a mother, and her fierce “mama bear” side when protecting her family.

Zazu, played by Tony Freeman, guided Mufasa and subsequently Simba and Nola to finally recognizing who they are as leaders of the Pride Lands. Freeman’s facial expressions and inflection played both sides of this helper and babysitter to show both his respect for and frustration by the young cubs. His light hearted side came perfectly with the Disney humor. Freeman while a substitute for this role, was by far a welcome surprise for the audience.

Mark Campbell, Scar, portrayed this villain stupendously. Campbell’s stoic looks and conniving inflections showed Scar’s duality to help gain him leadership of the Pride Lands. Campbell’s movements were purposeful and stealthy as Scar when he used the Hyenas to help further his unearned gains. In “Be Prepared” Campbell belted out the true terror that would reign once Scar had accomplished his goal and it gave me goosebumps.

The young actors playing Simba and Nala were exceptional and show the talent of ones far beyond their age. Ramon Reed, Young Simba, had a child-like curiosity that showed in his actions and demeanor throughout the musical. Yet wait for “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” and you will be in for a wonderful surprise as his vocal talent. Reed’s energy and excitement oozed throughout this stage and reminded everyone to be a little more adventurous. Gloria Manning, Young Nala, has perfected sass and lightheartedness. She harmonizes amazingly with Reed in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” but give her time, and she will show you’re her vocal power as well. Hands on hips and a sway of her head allows for Manning to embody a young cub who only wants to keep up with her best friend and beat him in the process. These two are not only talented, but the love for their craft is evident whenever they grace the stage.

The Hyena trio played by Martina Sykes (Shenzi), Keith Bennett (Banzai), and Robbie Swift (Ed) claim these rolls magnificently. Sykes, Bennet, and Swift not only handled the vocal inflections needed for these characters beautifully, but went further and through physical movement behaved like these animals, without ever breaking character. Sykes vocals were perfect from the high pitched squeals to her mightier than thou attitude. Bennett showed Banzai’s eagerness through his quick movements and powerful grapple with the other hyena’s. Swift exuded the not-so-smart Ed through his non-vocal gestures and movements that had the audience laughing at every appearance.

The duo of Timon, Nick Cordileon, and Pumbaa, Ben Lipitz was dynamic. Cordileon and Lipitz harmonized amazingly in “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and brought just the right amount of light-heartedness to the show. “Hakuna Matata” was on point and you could hear the audience singing along with the cast in the epic performance of these two. Cordileon’s wide eyes and smirks perfectly handled the personality of Timon, while Lipitz’s jovial smile nailed Pumbaa and his desire to live with no worries! Cordileon and Lipitz’s chemistry on stage was magnificent.

Jared Dixon reigned as Simba. Dixon’s passion was evident in every movement on stage. Dixon’s vocals in “Hakuna Matata” and “Endless Night” were stunning and emotional. Dixon showed Simba’s carefree attitude with his infectious grin and bright eyes. While he provided the sullen Simba with worried glances and down casted eyes, he fully understood both sides of Simba. Dixon showed power and might as Simba and fully embodied this character.

Nala played by Nia Holloway brought to life this strong female character who only wants to see the Pride Lands return to their former glory. In “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” Holloway belted it out and harmonized well with Dixon. Throughout this number, Holloway portrayed the love for Simba through her caresses and admiring glances. Holloway’s strength only added to Nala and brought the redemptive story to a close.

Vocally, the Ensemble Singers were phenomenal. They not only have powerful vocals that harmonized perfectly, but they showed the depth of emotion from the carefree days to the emotional ballads as the Pride Lands fall to Scar. In “Endless Nights” the ensemble shined and provided a poignant moment in the musical. Their joy was evident within each and every song and brought the musical to life.

The Ensemble Dancers were magnificent. Their powerful moves were not only graceful, but energetic. Each move was purposeful and executed with precision. While they each moved as their own individual animal, they were one unit that cohesively produced something bigger than themselves. In “Be Prepared” the dance ensemble creates magic through this tense scene that shows off the beauty of the choreography. Throughout the musical each dance scene exhibited not only knowledge of dance moves, but a passion within each number they performed.

This musical is made through the music. The live orchestra from the tour, plus the local musicians brings every emotion to the forefront. From the upbeat “Hakuna Matata” to the ballad of “Shadowland” the musicians are the heartbeat of the show. The raised areas for the two percussionists highlighted the African drum beats and incorporated the music fully into the audience.

Disney’s The Lion King does not disappoint. Family-friendly from beginning to end, be prepared for a night full of making memories and remembering not only a wonderful theatric performance, but who you belong to.

THE LION KING (National Tour)

Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park

Runs through July 7th

For information and to purchase tickets, show times, and parking please go to or by calling Ticketmaster at (866) 870-2717. They can also be purchased in person at the Music Hall at Fair Park Box Office Monday-Friday from 10:00am-6:00pm. Groups (10 or more) can call 214-426-4768 or emailing

**For an Added Treat, ticket buyers may also purchase the DSM Savanna Passport for $15.00 per person to enjoy a family-friendly experience prior to the show.**