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‘Lion King’ finally answers Smith Center’s call of the wild

Updated November 11, 2018 - 2:18 pm

In the infancy of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, “Disney’s The Lion King” was one that got away.

Not this time.

The national tour for “Lion King” touches down at Reynolds Hall from Wednesday through Nov. 25. The production is curiously connected to Las Vegas, primarily as one of the first shows Smith Center officials sought leading to the opening of Reynolds Hall in March 2012.

But “Lion King” had already played out on the Strip, as the resident show at Mandalay Bay from May 2009-December 2011.

“We had talked to Disney about bringing it in for the first season, but it was simultaneously playing at Mandalay Bay, in a long-term deal, so it didn’t come through town,” Smith Center President Myron Martin says. “It is important to us for that reason, and in a lot of ways. It’s a smash hit, it has wonderful messages as part of the show. I’ve always seen it as a “must” for our audience.”

The show is further linked to Vegas through The Space and Mondays Dark founder Mark Shunock, who played Timon in the national tour before moving to town with “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian. And the musical’s associate director, John Stefaniuk, was with the production during its days in Vegas.

“I loved my time there, and especially the eclectic mix of people in the entertainment community,” Stefaniuk says. “Las Vegas has this energy that I love, like New York or London, where there is a buzz for entertainment there and people who work hard to preserve their artistry.”

“Lion King” is the rare production to play to a tourist audience on the Strip, and and also a locals’ audience at Smith Center.

“Mandalay Bay was full of people from everywhere, all over the country, all over the world,” Stefaniuk says. “The downtown community, at least as I remember it, was where locals are very at home, in a Las Vegas atmosphere. It’s a whole different mecca.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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