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Byline: Karen D'Souza
Jan. 15--In the 1994 hit animated flick "The Lion King," the showstopper "Circle of Life" is sung by an anonymous voice. In the blockbuster Disney musical, which pounces into San Jose this week, it's chanted by a mystical baboon named Rafiki. And as Simba, the lion-cub-who-would-be-king soon learns, Rafiki is not someone to be monkeyed with.
The griot of "The Lion King," this simian sage with the painted face narrates the action, and the rest of the jungle had better listen up. "Rafiki is the heartbeat of the show," says Gugwana Dlamini, the actress who will play the role at the Center for the Performing Arts, where the show will be perched through Feb. 26, presented by the American Musical Theatre of San Jose.
The role is key to Julie Taymor's reinvention of the story. Banish most of what you remember from the cartoon version. The director, who cut her teeth in fringe theater circles, definitely has taken the (still) kid-friendly tale to a whole new level, filling the theater with eye-popping puppetry and masks, not to mention a feminist's viewpoint.
"There's nothing out there quite …