It’s amazing that even a huge spectacular, with a cast of dozens and lavishly expensive and profitable, can tell and effectively emote the most intimate human relationships.

The Lion King is the rock-solid beautiful (visually, artistically, musically) stage musical adaptation of the modern classic Disney film. Faithfully adapted from the script of the movie, the stage version is still consistently surprising and stunning to behold. From the very opening, with the baboon Rafiki represented as a female shaman, the audience is immersed into a new and exciting world, unlike anything that has ever been done on the Broadway stage.

Director Julie Taymour makes the brilliant decision to show the actor/puppeteers rather than hide them. Both the film and the musical are ultimately about us, and how we deal with loss, love, and living up to our responsibilities. The lions’ heads are placed on top of the actors’ heads, but by the end of the show you are no longer looking at the puppets – you are looking at the raw emotion portrayed by the human actors.

Another aspect I really appreciated, as a lifelong fan of the film, is how powerful and profound moments from the film were translated to stage. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Simba steps his small cub paw into the much larger pawprint of his father Mufasa. Rather than staging this specific POV shot, Taymour instead creates a heartbreakingly intimate moment, in which Mufasa takes off his mask/crown that he wears for the rest of the play. For this moment, he stops being a king and is just Simba’s father.

Subtleties like this make The Lion King so rewarding and engaging for the entirety of the performance. This was my second time seeing it, but I am already pinching my pennies to see it a third time while it is here in San Francisco. I am very happy to say this is a show that lives up to its hype.