Friday, September 19, 2008

Culture Cat: The Lion King (roar!)

above: "Circle of Life"

When I saw The Lion King at the Ohio Theater on Tuesday night, it was my second time seeing the show (I had seen it during its first trip to town in '04). Last time, the show was a recreation of what is done on Broadway (hence Pride Rock rising out of the stage, as seen in the picture above). This time, Disney Theatricals was trying out a "scaled-down" version of the show, which will make the show more portable and thus able to be seen in more places. In general I didn't really like the changes that were made (what I remembered of them), because I think it hampered director and designer Julie Taymor's original vision. Instead of rising up out of the stage, Pride Rock is sort of wheeled out on a circular track. Also, Mufasa's mask (and I could be wrong here) didn't look like it was as mobile as it was back in '04. If you've never seen the show, you won't notice. But if you have, then you probably will, especially during "Circle of Life."

But to particulars. Just about all of us have seen The Lion King, so I don't need to go into plot particulars. We still have Nala and Simba and Sarabi and Mufasa and Scar, and Zazu. There are a few new songs, some written by composer Lebo M, which are South African chants ("Grassland Chant", "Lioness Hunt"), and there are some trunk songs for the characters (Simba's "Endless Night", Nala's "Shadowlands", Zazu's "Morning Report" and "Chow Down" for the hyenas). There is also the Act II Opener, "The Madness of King Scar" (which for some reason has been shortened), my favorite piece in the show. The new songs integrate seamlessly into the existing pieces, and Tim Rice, Julie Taymor and Elton John wrote the music and lyrics for the new, non-chant numbers.

The cast was very strong, especially the chorus. I have to give them major props because much of their singing is off-stage. Having attempted to do this for J&H, I know how hard this is. It is pitch-black in the wings and the monitors are not very helpful. So kudos to them. Zazu was probably my favorite character, and Young Nala and Young Simba were done very handsomely by the child actors. The wildebeest stampede is an excellent, excellent scene, and probably, after "Circle of Life", the highlight of the show.

If you haven't seen this show it is worth it for the sheer spectacle--the costumes, the scenery, the lighting. The music is impressive, especially the numbers that incorporate chant, such as "He Lives In You" and "Rafiki Mourns." The two solos for Nala and Simba are also very nice and needed additions for character development.

So while the scenery may be simplified, there is nothing quite like watching the elephants and rhinoceri amble down the aisles of the theater and up onto the stage for the opening number. It's thrilling to watch.

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