January 25, 2015

The Disney feline that has bestrode Broadway for well over a decade has a lot going for it, obviously, but at Lionboy, playing a few blocks south at the New Victory Theater on West 42nd Street, the audience gets to do something it doesn’t at The Lion King, namely let out a big, gutsy roar in the middle of the show. The youngsters in the audience at this spirited, inventive entertainment, the first children’s show from the acclaimed British troupe Complicite, clearly delighted in this moment of audience participation. But I heard just as much guttural bellowing from the adults, letting forth with their inner Katy Perry, I suppose. Adapted by Marcelo Dos Santos from the trilogy by Zizou Corder (a pseudonym for the novelist Louisa Young and her daughter Isabel Adomakoh Young), and directed by Clive Mendus and James Yeatman, the production falls in with Complicite tradition by employing often minimal theatrical means to maximum effect. The simple set, by Jon Bausor and Jean Chan, is a large, weather-beaten disc on which the cast deploys a few basic props: a series of wooden and metal ladders become a boat or the walls of a prison cell. The eight nimble actors in the cast use their bodies and their voices to do much of the storytelling, which involves generous passages of direct narration. This sometimes dampens the theatrical momentum, but given the fantastic realms into which the story ventures, the reliance on direct address is understandable. It would require a Lion King-sized budget, and then some, to fully dramatize onstage the events conjured in Lionboy.