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This is kiddie theater with a vengeance. Eleven years after the cartoon feature came out, Julie Taymor's Disney musical is still going strong--and with good reason. It doesn't matter that the plot and characters are melodramatic, because what really carries the show for children of all ages is the stagecraft. And the stagecraft's human proportions are what set it apart from most big-ticket musicals: technology is less significant than the carefully crafted puppets and props, representing everything from elephants to buzzards to grasslands and herds of antelope. Moreover the audience can usually see the human being animating the puppet, especially delightful in the case of Timon: Damian Baldet, his whole head painted green, is clearly visible behind the human-size meerkat delivering its vaudevillian lines with the utmost old-school schmaltz. Ultimately The Lion King creates an overwhelming impression of imagination and ingenuity, celebrating what people--not necessarily technocrats but dancers and actors working with what God gave them--can do. There are moral messages, of course, both implicit and explicit, but they're easy to ignore. Even the melodrama can be fun, especially in the hands of Chicago native Larry Yando as Scar, every inch the sinuous, scheming, powerful pretender to the throne. Through 9/4: Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 6:30 PM. Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, 312-902-1400. $28.50-$125.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.

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