While Elton John's vocal and songwriting contributions to the 1994 Lion King film soundtrack helped make the animated feature a huge hit, there was no denying that John's pop-star power overshadowed the fable's inherent Afro-centric themes. To much of the general public, The Lion King's, music boils down to the stirring but slick singles "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Not so on this far superior and edgier Broadway cast album. Here the songs fit more seamlessly into the flow of the story. That's partly because this time those earlier hits share the spotlight with the haunting songs of South African composer Lebo M. At the same time, John, functioning here more as a songwriter than a star, and lyricist Tim Rice (Evita) have added three terrific new tunes for the stage version.
As realized on this original cast album, The Lion King is a joyously percussive and often deeply moving cultural partnership between Tin Pan Alley and the township of Soweto. And with tickets for the Broadway show being sold as much as a year in advance, this CD is the next best thing to an orchestra seat. (Walt Disney)