Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Broadway Review: The Lion King

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Inventive and awe inspiring take on a great story
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Revisit Simba
Inventive live theater
Creative and fun

Tragedy and Triumph Come Alive on Stage

Last year, when I was listening to the soundtrack from the Broadway version of The Lion King, I was really wishing I could see it again.  I’d seen it when it first hit Los Angeles, but that was nine or ten years ago.  Imagine my delight when I got an e-mail a few months later saying it was stopping through town for a month.  I immediately got tickets.

If you are familiar with the Disney movie of the same name, you already know the story.  It tells of Simba, a young lion cub destined to be the king of Pride Rock.  However, his scheming Uncle Scar wants the throne all to himself and will stop at nothing to get it.  Will he succeed or will Simba take his rightful place in the circle of life?

Yes, this is a musical with animals at the main characters.  That’s not that big a surprise in an animated movie, but it does become trickier when you are making a stage musical out of it.  And here is where the production comes alive.  The lions are humans in costumes with face masks but some of the other supporting characters like Zazu the hornbill or Timon the meerkat are humans working elaborate puppets.  And you know what is amazing?  You forget there is a human behind them, one you can clearly see if you stop to look, and focus on the puppet they are controlling.

Really, from the opening moments it’s wonderful.  Giant animal costumes parade down the aisles as the opening song, “Circle of Life,” starts.  I heard murmurs and gasps as the audience realized what was happening.  Yes, most of the action takes place on stage, but even then it is mesmerizing.  The costumes and puppetry work brilliantly to take you to Africa and believe you are watching these animals come to life.

And I haven’t even talked about the way they make the wildebeest stampeded come to life on stage.  Yes, all this takes a little imagination, but it works so well.

Of course, the story is great on its own.  They’ve expanded it a little, mostly adding some more songs that further flesh out the characters.  The adult Nala and Simba both get songs in the second act that are breathtaking.  And there are songs that really pull in the African flavor with chants that take you to the continent.

The dance numbers are fun and inventive to go along with the songs.  I’d almost call a couple of numbers interpretive dance.  While I wouldn’t want to watch a whole show of it, for those songs, it worked well.  There are other more traditional Broadway numbers as well that are just as fun.

I was surprised to see some changes that were made from the soundtrack I have.  Most noticeably, they took out “The Morning Report,” which they had animated to add to a DVD release of The Lion King.  That disappointed me since I enjoy the punny humor of the song.  Some of the other changes they made are understandable since many shows make changes over the years.

And the acting?  At the performance I saw, it was strong, helping me get into the story and forgetting all the other stuff I was watching on stage.

Really, if The Lion King is coming to a city near you, you owe it to yourself to see it.  Yes, the tickets are expensive, but it is worth it.  This is a production you will not forget.

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