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TPI ORLANDO - KaTonga at Busch Gardens Tampa

Busch Gardens Tampa: Joe Lane reviews the musical tales from the jungle.

From Joe Lane
Posted April 19, 2004 at 10:18 PM
TPI ORLANDO - KaTonga at Busch Gardens Tampa
Joe Lane Reviews the Musical Tales From The Jungle

On April 8th, Busch Gardens Tampa opened a brand new show at its Moroccan Palace Theater. Pulling inspiration from the park's African theme, KaTonga is a 35-minute long production with music, acrobatics, and amazing puppetry. While this production may look or sound similar to DAK's Festival of The Lion King, it still carries an originality that sets it apart and an energy that makes it worthy of your attention.

This is no ordinary show simply thrown together by a theme park entertainment division. The design of the Moroccan Palace Theater alone is impressive. For a theater which has featured ice-skating stage shows for the past fifteen years, it's actually a surprise to learn that, according to Producer Don Frantz, the theater is "the only legitimate full scale Broadway-style theater in a theme park on the entire East Coast."

Frantz, along with Broadway director Chase Senge, work with a full-range of creative individuals from some of Broadway's finest shows. Michael Curry is the designer responsible for the fantastic puppets from the Broadway version of "The Lion King" and now uses his skills to create the awe-inspiring creatures for KaTonga. Don Holder is the Tony-award winning lighting designer responsible for the many lighting effects. Abdel Salaam is the man behind the choreography. You can really see a blend of different dance styles unlike anything before--traditional African-style dances, ballet and even breakdancing are all a part of the dance and to see all these different styles together in one production is impressive, in my opinion.

When you enter the theater, the first thing you'll see are two large African-style trees with branches that reach up and together, framing the stage beautifully. The entire backdrop depicts a starry sky, with hundreds of tiny twinkling lights. As the saying goes, first impressions are the most important, and the production team certainly realized this.

As our story begins, we meet Karume, a master storyteller, who calls together the best storytellers of Africa, called griots, and challenges them to tell the best stories they possibly can. One tells the story of Whirly, a young monkey who learns about being confident (to the tune of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy"). Next, we have the song of Kipopo, a caterpillar struggling to find her place in the world of insects, follows with a story about Rok Rok, a bullfrog who's taught a lesson in living with others in harmony (accompanied by the Leslie Bricusse song "Talk With The Animals"). The finale is a story from about an African crowned crane named Kilinda and a great flood that threatens to wash away two lovers. The song "Celebrate the Light" is perhaps the true highlight of the production, uplifting and inspiring--and it's original, written by Tampa native Desmond Boone who has been writing music for BGT for 25 years.

This is a very technical show. Things may go wrong. Maybe a prop might not move when it needs to, maybe an actor or puppeteer may be slightly off, maybe a curtain won't move exactly as it should. Despite these minor difficulties, the actors go on with the show, and they do a spectacular job. The length is wonderful, the acting is superb, this is simply a beautiful musical. In that respect, if you're not a fan of Broadway musicals, this show might not be your cup of tea. Otherwise, if you plan on going to Busch Gardens anytime soon, go see this show! On a TPI scale of 0-10, I give a very high 9-Outstanding. Until next week, folks, keep on ridin'!

From Kevin Baxter
Posted April 20, 2004 at 2:54 AM
Only full-scale Broadway-style theater in a theme park on the East Coast? Sounds ridiculous until I realized that Broadway theaters aren't all that big. Much smaller than your average community center theater and way smaller than a concert arena. So it's possible. The only thing I can think of that comes close is the former Doug Live theater, but it isn't Broadway-style in that there is no balcony. So I guess if you select your words carefully, you can make something sound more grand than it really is.

Not that it isn't a nice theater. And it is indoors, which the Orlando parks could learn from! And they have always put effort into the shows here, so I'm glad they seem to have found one that fits the African theme a little better than ice skating.

From Jason Moore
Posted April 20, 2004 at 7:23 AM
Sorry Joe! didn't mean to post my review of this the same day as yours! but at least we both enjoyed it!

From Joe Lane
Posted April 20, 2004 at 7:43 AM
One thing that really concerns me is the Lion King vibe this show gives off. It is still a different and original show--it stands well on its own, but the puppets were made by the same guy who did the ones for the Broadway Lion King and the producer was an associate producer for Lion King as well.

Compared to Festival of The Lion King over at DAK, I think folks might find the untraditional setting more exciting (not to mention the fact the show is based on one of the last good Disney animated films)...

... and both shows have acrobatic monkeys. Course, over at Sea World, Odyssea has acrobatic penguins.

From Jason Moore
Posted April 20, 2004 at 10:50 AM
yes i did think the similarity between the acrobatic monkeys was interesting. and there are of course other similarities as well, but I think this show is done well enough that it can stand on it's own without being hurt too much by the comparison.

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