Just As I Thought

This Way A Lion Comes

imageWell, last night I caught the opening night performance of The Lion King here in San Jose. Coincidentally, my first time out on the San Jose arts scene was at the very same theatre where I performed a rather lame dance number on stage with my high school musical theatre class back in 1981. Or was it 82?
Anyway, the theatre was the same as I remembered it, although this time I was facing the stage instead of on it.
So. The show. It was gorgeous, perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on stage. The costumes, the puppetry, the dancing, the lighting… all amazing. I was having a fantastic time watching the turntables and conveyors and the actors playing plants and animate inanimate objects. The entire show reminded me of those glorious, symbolic and avant garde Olympic opening ceremonies that I love so much.
Wallace SmithAnd having a troupe of hot muscular guys dancing around half naked didn’t hurt either, especially the adult Simba, Wallace Smith.
But aside from the pageantry and beauty of it all, I was vaguely disappointed in the way they turned a movie into a stage show. In an animated film, editing is paramount and every image or song contributes to the story, moving it forward. But to expand a 90-minute movie into a 2-1/2 hour stage show means that the story is stretched. Songs are added — and many of the added songs, in my opinion, were not only superfluous but didn’t match in style to the original songs — and in one case, a scene was added that made no sense and had no payoff later. There were a couple songs that simply stopped the story cold and left me waiting for the show to start again.
Another thing that I found jarring was the inclusion of the cartoon characters. The vast number of costumes were designed in Julie Taymor’s inimitable style, including the main characters. However, the comic characters — Timon and Pumbaa, Zazu, the hyenas — were simply puppet versions of the Disney cartoons; each one performed by an actor who was striving to imitate the celebrity voice from the movie. These characters didn’t jibe well with the more organic, earthy vibe of the rest of the show.
Perhaps it was just a first night problem, but I found it very difficult to understand what the actors were singing. The mics were overpowered by the orchestra; and the many African lyrics just exacerbated the problem. Often, I didn’t know what the song was about or what it was trying to tell me.
But still, they managed to hit the same emotional notes on stage, and I found my eyes tearing up at the same places as the movie — the gorgeous opening number (and again at the end… the circle of life) and the terrifying moment when Simba discovers his father is dead. Despite my misgivings about some parts of the production, The Lion King delivered a beautiful night out… although with ticket prices up to $200, I’m not sure that this is a family outing.

1 comment

  • After watching Taymor’s “Titus” I almost refuse to watch anthing from her again.
    A complete work of self-gratification grossly over-done art direction it seemed as if this was just an excuse… ah screw it. Worst movie with great potential that I ever saw.
    Hope you enjoyed the show however.

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