Friday, July 04, 2003

The Lion King--The Broadway Music (Playhoue Square Center)

'THE LION KING' gets glowing review from Alex and Noah

The major theme of ‘THE LION KING--THE BROADWAY MUSICAL’ centers on the circle of life. The show, through music, dance and the spoken word illustrates how each life has a beginning, an existence, and an ending, yet continues on through a new generation. What was more appropriate, therefore, than attending a production of the Disney spectacular with those who are the keys to my circle of life...with my grandsons Noah, age 6 and Alex, age 7 1/2 (not 7, but 7 and one-half). And, since youngsters are a major component of the audiences for the musical, what is more appropriate than looking at the show through the eyes of children.

For those of you who have been hiding outside the savanna and missed the movie, haven’t heard the sound track, been subjected to the commercialization which included everything from McDonald Happy Meal toys to lunch boxes and t-shirts, ‘THE LION KING: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL’ celebrated its world premiere in 1997. It has been playing to sold out audiences ever since.

Based on the Disney animated movie, ‘THE LION KING’ the play has drawn rave reviews for its dazzling special effects, staging and music. The spectacle uses masks and puppetry to combine with live acting to capture the audience’s imagination.

The show, which won almost every major theatrical award, broke new ground in theatrical technology, bringing to the stage such vast and sweeping elements as the rolling African savannah. The staging includes more than 200 puppets which represent 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects. Eighteen-foot exotic giraffes and a 13’ long elephant march down the aisles. There are 125 ants, 39 hyenas, and 52 wildebeasts prancing before our eyes. The show’s original director said that she wanted a feeling of elegance. She succeeded!

The music by Tim Rice, Elton John, Hans Zimmer, and Lebo M. is a combination of African rhythms which collide with pop songs to create a memorable sound. The blended African-style choral arrangements engulf the viewer. That the show should be music-centered is entirely appropriate. In Africa, lives are permeated with music. Music has a function in society beyond simple entertainment -- songs are to teach, encourage, mourn and heal. Music serves a social function, helping to strengthen the circle of society.

The story? It is sunrise on the savanna. All the animals gather at Pride Rock to see Mufasa, the Lion King, and his queen introduce their newborn son, Simba. Simba grows into a cocky young cub. Mufasa tells Simba that everything lives together in a delicate balance called the Circle of Life. Life appears good for Simba’s future. But the plot thickens when Scar, Musafa’s evil brother, plans the deaths of Simba and Mufasa so that he, along with his evil henchmen, the hyenas, can rule the kingdom. Scar orchestrates a stampede and manages to kill Mufasa. He then convinces Simba that Mufasa's death was all Simba's fault. Scar tells Simba to leave the Pridelands and never return. The cub flees and life no longer appears good. get the idea.
Of course, through obvious twists and turns everything ends up happily. This is a Disney else could it end?

So, what did Alex and Noah think? “It was great!” were their synchronized screams of joy.

What was the story about? Alex spent ten minutes giving a detail-by-detail recounting of the plot, with Noah adding details. Obviously the show clearly gets its idea across and, of course (as their grandfather knows), Alex and Noah are smart kids so they got the point.

Their favorite part? “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Close follow-up was “Hakuna Matata” the song which introduces us to Simba’s new friends, a warthog and a weasel.
What does “Hankuna Matata” mean? No problem for the dynamic means, (sung, of course) “no worries of the rest of your days.”

Who did you like the best? Noah’s face lit up immediately and giggled, “The funny guy...the green one.” He was referring to Rafiki, who acts as our narrator and visionary on what is to happen. The two boys then demonstrated the moves from “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” which includes a series of hip-wiggling gyrations. Hey, these kids did love this show!

What did you learn? Alex responded, “Be kind to animals.” Noah stated, “Be respectful.”

The unqualified dual opinion, “I want to see “Lion King” again!”

Don’t be surprised if some children, like the 5-year old sitting in front of us burst into tears at the death of Mufasa. This is a “real” person, not a movie cartoon character. He wailed, “I don’t like those bad-guy hyenas at another part of the action. It might be wise to avoid taking a very sensitive child to see the show. Also, be aware that this is a long production. Evening performances may be a “stay awake” problem. Things were not helped on opening night when the curtain went up 20 minutes late.

Taking the kids on-line to would be a good introduction and playing the CD on the way to the theatre helps set the mood.

Capsule judgement: As for us, in the car the next day Alex and Noah both wanted to listen to “their” music...”THE LION KING--THE BROADWAY MUSIC.”