The Lion King musical has a legacy that precedes itself. There is no surprise that Disney’s commitment to this visual feast was above and beyond, but that never takes away from the actual experience. Even with its quarter-century life on Broadway and two decades of touring, the show’s popularity has not waned. The proof shows how difficult it is to get tickets because shows have been selling out. But it’s worth the effort to try to see the lush production live.

For a musical production, the irony in The Lion King is that you go for the spectacle of it all. The animal costumes and puppetry and set designs are all stunning and engrossing. When one of Elton John’s and Tim Rice’s songs come on, they are almost secondary to the visuals – or rather, they punctuate the visuals rather than being showstopping numbers. Really, the whole show is a perpetual showstopper. 

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With that, the drama of the story itself does not falter to the imagery. TLK always felt like a Shakespearean drama hidden behind a G-rating for the movie. Here, that drama was never subtle in last week’s Thursday performance. The actors brought intense performances in their roles as members of the animal kingdom and added to their costumes rather than be consumed by them. 

For this performance, the show lacked some energy in the beginning after the don’t-miss opening number “Circle of Life.” The expostion unfolded a bit slowly. That lagging feeling fell by the way when the show kicked in during the Act I middle number “Be Prepared.” From that, the musical found its high-quality groove. 

While the cast was stellar, of particular note were Jordan Pendleton and Darian Sanders as both young and adult Simba respectively that evening. Pendleton’s savvy on stage was a remarkable feat for a young actor and he carried the majority of the show’s first half like a pro. Sanders had much to live up to with Pendleton’s performance and delivered. He captured the youth’s nuance but also embraced a certain regal flair which, IYKYK, came in handy later.  

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As Rafiki, the wise baboon, Mukelisiwe Goba performed with charm and energy that kept all eyes on her when onstage. For LK enthusiasts, they will appreciate Nick Cordileone’s Timon and John E. Brady’s Pumba which were almost exact replicas from the film that served as comic comfort food to watch. Peter Hargrave’s Scar was sinister and plotting but the actor’s whispers of whimsy were in interactions with young Pendleton or as the unenthused leader during his royal tenure. 

Blockbusters (movies and musicals) can often put the music and dancing first to get through a story, but here, and of course being Disney, the climactic ending was genuinely exciting and even heartfelt. In the show’s ultimate triumph, a swell of emotions may surprise you, but it shouldn’t. 

The Lion King runs through Sunday at Bass Hall. 

–Rich Lopez