“The Lion King” features the iconic Circle of Life at Pride Rock scene. (Segerstrom Center for the Arts)

Disney’s “The Lion King” returns to California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts (SCFTA) in Costa Mesa until Sunday, February 25. The live action play has won more than 70 global theatrical awards since 1998 and features five indigenous African languages during the performance: Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, and Swahili.  “The Lion King” is a cultural phenomenon that has wowed audiences all over the world.

Worldwide, nearly 1,100 people are directly employed by “The Lion King,” and since it’s Broadway premiere, 250 South Africans have been hired in one or more of the global productions as lead actors, ensemble dancers/ singers, musicians, or members of the crew. The celebration of the African diaspora is one of the many reasons “The Lion King,” is important during Black History Month.

Related Links:

Inside a special Black History Month rite at ‘The Lion King’ – Los Angeles Sentinel (lasentinel.net)

The Amazing Grace Conservatory (AGC) Celebrates the 25th anniversary on Stage Performing ‘The Lion King’  – Los Angeles Sentinel (lasentinel.net)

‘Tale of the Lion King’ Director Paul Bryant – Los Angeles Sentinel (lasentinel.net)

Celebrating 25 landmark years on Broadway,”The Lion King” continues to uphold as one the most popular stage musicals in the world. Since its premiere on November 13, 1997, 28 global productions have been seen by over 112 million people. Produced by Disney Theatrical Group, under the direction of Andrew Flatt, Anne Quart, and Thomas Schumacher, the play has made theatrical history with three productions worldwide running 20+ years and two others running 25+ years.

Darian Sanders stars as Simba. (Segerstrom Center for the Arts)

The SCFTA engages new and existing audiences with one of the most eclectic performing arts programs in the country, including an internationally acclaimed dance series, top Broadway shows, intimate jazz and cabaret performances, leading artist from classical music, family entertainment, contemporary theatre, and performance arts, and many more. Some of their center resident companies include Philharmonic Society of Orange County and Pacific Chorale.

The immersive experience begins with bright lighting, as the conductor signals the beginning of the iconic “circle of life” performed by the extraordinary Mukelisiwe Goba, as Rafiki. Tony Award-winning director and designer Julie Taymor, along with designer Michael Curry, hand sculpted and painted every mask that appears in the opening number. Their department of skilled mask makers, sculptors, puppeteers, and artisans spent 17,000 hours building the animal costumes.

Excitement from the crowd grew as elephants, giraffes, birds, and antelopes walked down the theatre aisles to Pride Rock as they welcomed the new heir. The animals came to life through the precision of their designs and complimenting the gorgeous set that was perfectly reminiscent of the original animated film. The narrative remains traditional while introducing new elements of music, dialogue, and movement. The cast passionately tells the story of true triumph as a father prepares his son to inherit their kingdom before his tragic death. The strong tale of redemption is more than familiar but relatable in the same breath.

Mukelisiwe Goba performs as Rafiki. (Segerstrom Center for the Arts)

The production features Gerald Ramsey, who graciously plays Mufasa, embodied the paternal character with conviction, power, and expertise. His voice and body paint captured the attention of the audience working between the protagonist and the martyr, until Mufasa’s final scene. And even after death, Mufasa’s character remained a focal point as his son grew into manhood. Peter Hargrave as Scar was a superb villain. Betraying his family to fulfill his own self-proclaimed prophecy of becoming king of the Pride Lands. Respected Disney sidekick Zazu, played by Nick LaMedica, provided comedic relief during fun and energetic scenes as well as suspenseful and dramatic scenes.

The role of young Simba alternates between Mason Lawson and Julian Villela and young Nala between Jaxyn Damasco and Aniya Simone. The youthful performers were impressive, showing poise and composure on stage. A matured Simba played by Darien Sanders, and a grown Nala played by Khalifa White, exemplified respect for the craft and their characters as they relayed the final scenes to culminate an incredible offering of theatrical magic. One of the underlying stars of the play, Mukelisiwe Goba personified that character of Rafiki with her voice and electric personality. Her costume is arguably one the best ensembles ordained in traditional African accessories, colors, and threads. Goba also narrated scenes, demonstrated comedic strength when appropriate, and has redefined the character since her casting.

Purchase tickets for “The Lion King,” online at Disney’s The Lion King | Segerstrom Center for the Arts, or contact the Segerstrom Center for the Arts Ticket Services at (714) 556-2787.