The Lion King at the Mandalay Bay Theater in Las Vegas marries Disney’s Broadway smash hit with the advantages of a state-of-the-art 1700 seat theater. Since its New York opening in 1997 the musical has been performed worldwide.

For director Julie Taymor The Lion King continues to be a passion project. In the program her credits include: Director, costume design, masks/puppet co-design, and additional lyrics.

The Lioness Dance.

The Las Vegas show opened May 15th, 2009 with the tried and true —  actors from Broadway’s Lion King along with regional performers and newcomers.

Together they transport the audience to Africa where the animals make us realize that, as the hit song implies, we are all part of “The Circle of Life” (opening photo).

The costumes, masks and puppetry add a classic, almost Kabuki grace to the jungle. There are no live animals in the show. And, it is not just family fare. One might conclude that because it’s a Disney production it’s geared towards children. Not true. The Lion King touches people of all ages and backgrounds. The theme is universal — family, loyalty, betrayal and redemption — life and death.

Ironically, the Lion King examines the best and worst instincts of human nature.

Buvi Sama as Rafiki .

Rafiki (Buyi Zama) opens the Lion King with a commanding African chant. She’s a seasoned actress who, having played this role in the West End, South Africa, and Australia, delivers a powerful performance.

King Mufasa played with noble ease by Alton F. White tries to save his son, young Simba, from a wildebeest stampede while his villainous brother, Scar (Thom Sesma) watches as the herd tramples him.

Uncle Scar makes his nephew, young Simba believe that if he had obeyed his father, and not wandered too far, the king would still be alive. Simba goes into self-imposed exile and Uncle Scar ascends the lion’s throne.

Alton F. White as Mufasa .

Thom Sesma as Scar.

There’s plenty of comic relief along the way. Patrick Kerr as Zazu, the wisecracking bird, a nervous narrating mainstay of many Disney projects; Damian Baldet as Timon and Adam Kozlowski as Pumba add the old vaudevillian/new Disney guffaws.

Clifton Oliver as Simba.

One of my pet peeves has always been the way Las Vegas demands a 90 minute show. The Lion King is an exception to this rule. The musical is in two acts with a 15 minute intermission.

The first act — a touch long — ends with “Hakuna Matata”, a favorite that has become part of every movie/theater-goers musical vocabulary.

The second act moves more quickly. Simba (Clifton Oliver) brings his Broadway experience to bear, embodying the young adult lion. Nala (Kissy Simmons) is equally catlike. They’re a dynamic duo, and when they sing, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, we do. 

Just as we want our leaders to stop global warming, and turn the economy around, we want Simba and Nala to right their broken world. If you’re in search of a happy ending, “The Circle of Life” will rejuvenate you.

The theatrical mechanics, puppetry, set design, masks and costumes are reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, and the result is a simply stunning visual experience. Add music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and music and lyrics by Africian singer/composer Lebo M who is known as “the voice and spirit of the Lion King”, and you leave the theater with a sense of enchantment.

Lions and Giraffes.

Will the Lion King appeal to Las Vegas audiences?

Kissy Simmons in Shadowland.

Nala and Simba embrace.

That is a question that only time will tell.

Ticket prices seem a bit steep on the premium seats for these economically challenging times, but other seat prices are reasonable and are actually a good deal compared to Broadway theater prices.

I believe that as the show goes on, it will gain momentum. The more the show plays the better it will be.

The Lion King at Mandalay Bay plays Monday through Thursdays at  8 p.m.; it’s dark Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There are two performances — 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Tickets range from $53 to $168.50.

For reservations call 877-632-7400;

or email

Mufasa and Scar confrontation.

— Theater Feature by Linda Lane, Jetsetters Magazine Entertainment Editor. All photos by Joan Marcus for Disney's Lion King at Mandalay Bay.

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