Saturday, July 13, 2013

Music Review: The Lion King - Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Original classics combined with many fun new songs
Cons: The chanting tracks mean nothing to me
The Bottom Line
A classic story
Upgraded for Broadway stage
Creates more fun songs

Good Soundtrack for Another Animated Movie Turned Broadway Musical

After the success Disney had turning Beauty and the Beast into a Broadway musical, they turned their sights on The Lion King.  I bought the soundtrack not too long after I saw it, but then I let it sit for years until just this month.  As a result, some of the visuals that go with the songs are foggy memories at best, which is unfortunate since you need most of those to truly appreciate this soundtrack.

The story for the play follows the movie very closely, so it's not surprise that these songs sound pretty much the same.  Okay, so you do have to get used to a new cast singing them.  The biggest change there is Rafiki.  They give that character "Circle of Life" and make her a woman.  I've got nothing against Tsidii Le Loka's voice here, but it takes a few listens since the other is so iconic.  On the other hand, John Vickery's deep voice as Scar sounds so similar to Jeremy Irons' original that I had to double check and make sure he wasn't reprising the role on Broadway.  That makes "Be Prepared" very good.  Scar should be deep and threatening.  They've also changed the final couple of lines in "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," giving them to Simba and Nala and making it much more of a love song.  Frankly, as funny as the original ending is, I think this one works better.

But if we just had the 5 original songs, this wouldn't be much of a musical, now would it?  And it's these new tracks where the disc runs into a bit of a problem.  Many of them are good, but I'm not a fan of all of the.

The original song writing team of Tim Rice and Elton John came back for three of the songs, and I really enjoy two of them.  Up first is "Morning Report."  This expands on the scene where Zazu the bird is giving Mufasa the news of his kingdom while Mufasa is teaching young Simba to pounce.  What I love about this one is the fact that it is filled with puns.  I'm laughing the entire way through it.  Equally fun is "Chow Down."  This song is given to the hyenas as they think they are going to get to eat young Simba and Nala.  Again, it's pretty funny.  But it also stands out because, unlike the rest of the soundtrack, this is a rock anthem complete with electric guitar.  The hyenas voices are a bit on the cartoony side, but that's a minor complaint.

Which brings us to "The Madness of King Scar."  The final addition from Tim Rice and Elton John takes place in the second act and shows us just how Scar is reacting to the pressures of being king and the guilt over what he's done to his brother and nephew.  It's a decent idea, but it goes on much too long with too many changes and breaks.  Plus it ends with him threatening to make Nala his queen, which I don't like at all.

One issue I have with the soundtrack are the tracks that are African chants.  I have a feeling they would mean more to me if I saw them on stage.  Here, they are just chanting, and I quickly grow tired of hearing them.  That means tracks like "Grasslands Chant," "The Lioness Hunt," and "One by One" are simply filler for me.  And "Rafiki Mourns" is actually one I skip since the wailing noise is just so hard to listen to.  However, when they work the chanting into other songs like the incredible "They Live in You," which is a reminder to Simba that he has the strength of his forefathers in him, it adds so much flavor and power to the song.  I love it there.  I also enjoy it in the dramatic fight songs "The Stampede" and "Simba Confronts Scar."

In the second act, Nala and Simba each get their own solos that are just amazing.  Nala's is "Shadowland," in which she sings about leaving her home.  But even more powerful is "Endless Night."  This song finds Simba crying out to the dead Mufasa, "You promised you'd be there/Whenever I needed you/Whenever I call your name/You're not anywhere."  After listening to this for a week, there are several songs that get stuck in my head, but I love it when it is this one.  The chorus behind him and the orchestra are so powerful together that it brought tears to my eyes the first few times I heard it.

While I few of the songs did work for me, the classics from the movie and most of the new tracks do.  Anyone who loves The Lion King should add the Original Broadway Cast Recording to their library to get more to the story.

CD Length: 1:04:44
1. Circle of Life
2. Grasslands Chant
3. The Morning Report
4. The Lioness Hunt
5. I Just Can't Wait to be King
6. Chow Down
7. They Live in You
8. Be Prepared
9. The Stampede
10. Rafiki Mourns
11. Hakuna Matata
12. One by One
13. The Madness of King Scar
14. Shadowland
15. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
16. Endless Night
17. Can You Feel the Love Tonight
18. He Lives in You (Reprise)
19. Simba Confronts Scar
20. King of Pride Rock/Circle of Life (Reprise)

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