See more of the story

"The Lion King" was social media-ready long before African dance challenges went viral on TikTok.

Julie Taymor's magnum opus, which has returned for a monthlong run at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis where it premiered in 1997, is studded with iconic African scenes, earwormy songs such as "They Live in You" and "Hakuna Matata," and gorgeous dances.

There also arebreathtaking costumes and scenography plus some fetching juvenile humor from meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and warthog Pumbaa (William John Austin).

The musical grabs us from its enveloping opening number, "Circle of Life," as a puppet parade of Serengeti animals files into the theater, and never lets go. Other iconic elements include the spaceship-like movement of the set pieces for the competing courts — Pride Rock and the Elephant Graveyard, the propulsive wildebeest stampede and choreographer Garth Fagan's grass skirt dances.

Then there's Rafiki (Mukelisiwe Goba), the entertaining medicine woman who is a little show unto herself as she delivers with rapid-fire clicks that communicate with clarity and humor even if we don't speak Sesotho.

All these elements, executed nearly flawlessly at the Orpheum, combine for a rare work that's worth seeing again and again.

If the story feels Shakespearean, it's because "Lion King" resets "Hamlet" on the savanna. Scheming Scar (Peter Hargrave), who rules over the bare, death-infused Elephant Graveyard, covets the prosperous Pride Rock throne of his brother, Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey). He teams up with some hyenas to try to get rid of both Mufasa and innocent prince Simba, who just can't wait to be king (Mason Lawson alternates in the role with Julian Villela for Young Simba). Exiled and unaware of his true worth, adult Simba (the terrific Darian Sanders) needs Rafiki and Nala (Khalifa White) to get him to see who he really is.

"Lion King" is a restoration story, but female characters have some agency. There's Rafiki, the storyteller, and Young Nala (Aniya Simone alternates with Jaxyn Damasco) has a history of pinning Simba in play-fights.

The show's magnificent artistry makes it easy to be smitten with it. "Lion King" has fabulous performances, even with a few sound issues (underamplification?) at Thursday's opening night performance.

But like any great work, it continues to remind us of things we should know, like the power of humor.

Scar is one of the show's most captivating characters. Most everything about him is fake — including his demonstrated affection for Simba. But his sense of humor helps to not only cover his illegitimacy and evil but also use wit to win us over, even if everything goes to pot once he gets hold of power.

Still, ultimately, good prevails in the Pridelands.

"Being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble," Mufasa tells a young Simba. But when trouble comes to you, you call on your ancestors and muster all the strength you can to defeat it.

'The Lion King'

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends April 28.

Tickets: $39-$199.