Sunday, October 09, 2005

thoughts on The Lion King

Sorry to have been away for a bit.
Bobo just returned from two days in Portland, checking out the touring company that will be in Spokane Oct. 27-Dec. 4. The Inlander will carry a preview in an upcoming issue.
In the meantime, some thoughts and highlights.
This is not a show just for kids -- it's for kids and their parents, for all adults.
There's reason to be a bit leery of all the Disney hype -- the Greatest Show Ever To Hit the Inland Northwest, etc. -- but it is a very good show.
The human/puppet interaction is remarkable, and the extent of its use and creativity is unlike anything you've seen in theater.
Yeah, there are kid actors and pretty costumes and the flatulence jokes of Timon and Pumbaa that will delight the kids. But for the adults - could the meerkat and warthog be metaphors for Democrats and Republicans? Kidding.
But there are plenty of topics of adults: spirituality, death and the meaning of life, parenting, lots of allusions and wordplay that only adults will get.
I was surprised, given Disney's legendarily tight control on all its theme park and theatrical extravaganzas, that it allowed the handful of off-color jokes, and jokes at Disney's own expense.
Anyway. You may know that the opening parade of animals -- all to life-size scale, all blended with human actors in delightful and unexpected ways -- gets its impact from coming down the aisles, out of the audience and onto the stage.
Gonna lose its impact at the Opera House, I thought -- they'll be squeezed in along the sides.
Well, I'm here to tell ya they're cutting aisles down the the middle of our Opera House, folks. Not defacing it, exactly, but certainly changing the seating configuration.
I got the skinny on masks, puppets, costumes, lights and sound, music, the works. As I said, coming up at an Inlander rack near you.
You might be interested to know that in the case of the actor playing Mufasa (the king of the lions, and Simba's father), life imitates art: With the company for years, he has effectively become its father figure -- to the point of developing a company ritual to cement relationships.
The cheetah, the zebras, the way they do the moment when Mufasa speaks "from heaven" -- wow.
The company, predominately black, has a half-dozen South Africans who help to sing the African-inspired score. While the impact of that may be muted in among predominately white audiences in Spokane, it's a different story, according to some cast members, in cities like Atlanta.
Perceptions to overcome: It's not just for kids. It is a long way from a guys-in-fuzzy-costumes show. It's a stage musical that makes imaginative use of several kinds of puppets and re-characterizes a couple of the major characters in significant ways. And it's not sold out.
On the other hand, as Nike Imoru remarked to me -- a couple of $75 tickets in the orchestra for Lion King, that's practically a couple of season tickets for ARt or Interplayers.
My advice? Go for a pair of the cheap seats ($25). It's a big show -- I saw it from the back of the house in Portland, and it was fine -- and then spread your theatrical dollars among the Civic and CenterStage and other local theaters, as much as you can. The Lion King stirred my heart at times -- but then even a six-character costume drama like Mrs. Warren's Profession at ARt messed with my mind. They're different kinds of thrills, and the theater -- done well, as it is in both these productions, as musical theater is in the Civic's My Fair Lady -- can do both of them, moving us in a variety of ways.


At October 10, 2005 10:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto Bobo's comments on this show. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, especially the non-Disney music. Allow me to elaborate on that African-inspired music.

The choral mix of the Circle of Life in the movie was arranged by Lebo M, a South African who has worked closely with Hans Zimmer. You can hear selections of his music for films and The Lion King at his website,

Disney was brilliant in asking Lebo M to incorporate his music into the stage version. Julie Taymor has incredible visual work with the puppets, but the Zulu chorus is just as incredible.

The original cast CD has the English translations; all the songs echo the images and action. Some samples of the lyrics (not in the program or souveneir booklet, when I saw it)
One by One (as Scar has taken over the tribe): Hold on, don't lose your strength, we will win because we know who we are.
Shadowland: This land of our ancestors is holy.
King of Pride Rock: King of kings, the time has come, rule with peace.
Lioness Hunt: We are going hunting (simple but wildly wonderful)

This is music that no matter how hard we in Spokane try, we can't imitate with the same passion and meaning (and correct pronunciation).

And if you follow Bobo and Nike's advice and sit up high, you may have a cast member standing by you waving a bright ribbon or a bird, and you'll look down on the rest of the Opera House during "One By One" and see a vibrant celebration of joy and hope.


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