Thursday, 15 March 2012 02:16

Breathtaking Lion King Opens In New Orleans At Mahalia Jackson

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Dean M. Shapiro

Broadway Across America Presents



Fifty years ago a New York vocal group called The Tokens took a song called “Wimowe” based on an old African legend and transformed it into a #1 hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Half a century later the lion awakens in New Orleans for a five-week run as Disney’s THE LION KING.

The long-awaited multi-award-winning musical based on the animated Disney movie of the same name opened March 14 at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. It is the final production of the 2011-2012 Broadway Across America season in New Orleans. Single tickets are on sale through the theater box office and website, and through the Broadway Across America and Ticketmaster websites for the entire run which wraps up on April 15.


The numbers on THE LION KING are nothing short of phenomenal. Winner of more than 70 prestigious award since its premiere in 1998, including six Tonys (including Best Musical and Best Direction), eight Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, a Grammy, an Oscar and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in just the first year alone. The show also won multiple awards in London, Los Angeles, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia and The Netherlands.

THE LION KING has been seen by more than 63 million people in 14 countries on five continents. It has been translated into seven languages. It is the seventh longest-running musical in Broadway history and only one of five to run for ten years or more on the Great White Way. All told, the production has run for a cumulative total of 89 years. And, at the present time, not including New Orleans, it is running eight productions simultaneously in North America, Europe and Asia. When director Julie Taymor won the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical in 1998 she became the first woman in theatrical history to receive the honor.

New Orleanians will finally have a chance to marvel at the breathtaking spectacle of animals brought to life by a cast of more than 40 actors. Award-winning director Taymor created visual images for this show that, based on a sneak preview seen late last week at the theater, will awe and amaze the local audience. And, the familiar score that includes Elton John and Tim Rice's Oscar-winning song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and the equally memorable "Circle of Life" will likely have theatergoers singing along.

The cast includes LSU music education graduate Maurica Roland, a Pensacola, Florida native who performs in the ensemble and is an understudy for the roles of Nala the lioness; Shenzi, one of the three evil hyenas; and Sarabi, Mufasa’s lioness queen.

Other leading cast members include Jalani Remy (Simba), Syndee Winters (Nala, Simba’s loyal lioness), J. Anthony Crane (Scar), Dionne Randolph (Mufasa), Buyi Zama (Rafiki the baboon shaman), Mark David Kaplan (Zazu the hornbill), Adam Kozlowski (Pumbaa the warthog) and Nick Cordileone (Timon the meerkat). The three evil hyenas are played by Keith Bennett (Banzai), Rashade Dawan (Shenzi) and Robbie Swift (Ed). The role of Young Simba is alternated between Zavion J. Hill and Adante Power, and the role of Young Nala alternates between Sade Phillip-Demorcy and Kailah McFadden.

Michael Carey, who has been with the production since 2003, is the Head Carpenter who oversees all departments related to sets and production. During an interview last week he explained that all of the sets, costumes, props and other production gear require the transport of 18 trucks measuring 53 feet each. The production setup employs 28 fulltime workers who travel year-round with the show and, during its five-week New Orleans run, 70 to 100 local members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) will have good-paying, union-scale wages to look forward to. After so many years of experience, Carey has the setup down to a science, knowing that it takes 57 hours from start to completion.

The production runs through Sunday, April 15. Show times are as follows:

  • 8:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
  • 2:00 and 8:00 p.m. Saturday
  • 1:00 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

There will be two 2:00 p.m. Thursday matinees on March 15 and April 12. There will not be a 6:30 performance on Sunday, April 15.

Ticket prices start as low as $30. 25 and good seats are still available. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office in Louis Armstrong Park, ordered by calling 1-800-982-ARTS (2787) or online at Tickets can also be ordered through Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or For group seating of 15 or more call 504-287-0372.

The Mahalia Jackson Theater is located in Louis Armstrong Park at 1419 Basin Street. For more about the show go to For a plot summary go to

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