The company of The Lion King onstage with puppets representing the animals. Mufasa is holding baby Simba up toward the sky at the rear.
The company of the latest U.S. tour of The Lion King. Credit: Matthew Murphy

At 25 years old, The Lion King has been seen by more than 110 million people and played every continent but Antarctica. Between global warming and ticket demand, it’s probably just a matter of time. 

The latest U.S. tour to stop in Chicago feels significantly less lavish from earlier versions that blew audiences and critics away with its visually, aurally stunning Hamlet-but-with-lions tale of an African king, Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey), murdered by his evil brother Scar (Peter Hargrave). Mufasa’s cub Simba (Darian Sanders) flees the kingdom, and the journey of Simba from reckless cub to royal king is the nexus of Elton John’s soaring, percussive score (lyrics by Tim Rice).

The Lion King
Through 1/14: Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 7:30 PM, Sun 1 and 6:30 PM; also Tue 12/20, 12/27, and 1/10 7:30 PM, Fri 11/25 and 12/23 2 and 7:30 PM, Mon 12/26 7:30 PM, Fri 12/30 1 and 6:30 PM, Sun 11/27 1 PM only, Sat 12/24 2 PM only, Sat 1/7 7:30 PM only; Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph, 800-775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com, $55-$195

The production at hand feels far too “Hakuna Matata,” as if the producers calculated that it didn’t matter if the savannah was a few creatures short of a “Circle of Life” because the show would sell regardless. 

John’s magnificent score is ever in the service of The Lion King’s glorious visual aesthetic, famously the costume/puppet creations designed by the show’s original director Julie Taymor (who became the first woman to win the Tony for director of a musical in 1998). But at the Cadillac Palace, the creatures are starting to look a little long in the tooth. The human cast is fine. Those puppets look tired. The iconic wildebeest stampede appears weirdly akin to an early Atari game. The flora inflatables look like they’re close kin with those inflatable men who live on used car lots. Rafiki (Gugwana Dlamini) looks vaguely like a neglected Christmas tree, all manner of bits and bobs sagging from her bulbous costume. 

The cast is competent and energetic and kids are apt to be delighted regardless. They probably won’t even notice how droopy the vultures are.