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In Lion King, magic is in its elaborate costumes
Rafiki and a herd of gazelles are portrayed by elaborate costumes in the Broadway version of "The Lion King. - photo by Joan Marcus

Broadway's "The Lion King" may have inspiring music, silly jokes and a great story, but the crowning achievement of the stage version of the classic Disney tale is the costumes.

Watching how the production represents each animal rivals the entertainment value of the story itself.

The opening number, "Circle of Life," fills the stage with animals. Cast members walk on hands and feet with stilts coming from all fours to create giraffes. Dancers with gazelle figures attached to their heads and both hands move so they become a small heard of the animals.

A lion looks similar to a centaur, only it's half man, half lion, with a puppet-like representation protruding in front and legs attached at the dancer's hip and ankle.

Most of the central characters in the story are portrayed with electronically-controlled lion masks sitting atop actors' heads. In one scene, the actors bend forward and their masks come face-to-face in a challenge.

Hyenas have similar masks, only they extend in front of actors who seem to be running around on all fours. In another scene, dancers move about the stage with large headpieces of savanna grass as puppet lion cubs dance above the sea of grass.

The " no worries" attitude of Timon and Pumbaa is also shown through costume. A huge, smiling warthog face extends from an actor's midsection, his hands at his side, and the tail end extends from the back to create the large, round warthog. The actor who plays Timon is dressed in all green and carries a large meercat puppet in front of him.

The bird Zazu, portrayed by a handheld puppet, almost seems to fly with the animated movements controlled by the actor, dressed in blue. And the prophetic monkey Rafiki has colorful face paint and a baboon behind hanging in back, which the actress shakes to an eruption of laughter in the audience.

By the end of the show, of course, it is about more than costumes. The music, languages, story, colors and movement combine for one fanciful and impressive night.