Friday, November 12, 2021

The Lion King (Broadway)

♣♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Destined to be the future king of Pride Rock, Simba (Corey J.) has always been some kind of a spoiled brat, equating recklessness with proof of bravery, much to the worry of his father current king Mufasa (L. Steven Taylor) and his red-billed hornbill bodyguard Zazu (Cameron Pow). With constant prodding from his Uncle Scar (Stephen Carlile) who wants the throne for himself, the young cub never runs out of dangerous ideas to try, with one proving to be fatal and eventually leading to his self-banishment from the kingdom. Through his soul searching he meets carefree meerkat Timon (Fred Berman) and gluttonous warthog Pumbaa (Ben Jeffrey), forgetting about his royal destiny. But his past will catch up with him, as an adult Nala (Adrienne Walker) stumbles upon the trio and tries to persuade her childhood friend to go back to claim the throne usurped by his uncle. With the help of sage shaman mandrill Rafiki (Tshidi Manye), Simba (Brandon A. McCall), now a full-grown lion, rediscovers his past to secure his future as the lion king.

Perhaps what surprised me the most was the feeling of somehow being underwhelmed by the musical performances. What I’m talking about is the way the songs hit you despite the overflowing nostalgia. Or maybe because The Lion King is just so replete with all the puppetry and shadow theater that keeps your attention divided at all times. There is just too much going on up that stage that vie for your attention. So maybe it is a case of the visuals overwhelming the audio?

Unlike Aladdin which has that dreamy onstage rendition of “A Whole New World” or Frozen with its showstopping first act finale via “Let It Go”, The Lion King should have several for contention like “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. Instead, it is “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” that ends up getting stuck in your head, perhaps because of the awesome onstage visuals. “Circle of Life” to begin the show, though, definitely gives you goosebumps, but also has to contend with the overflow of puppetry and the audience just beginning to adjust and embrace what they see onstage.

But yeah, this is way different than most of the musicals we have seen before. The material feels more like a blend of your typical Disney musical and traditional forms of theater ranging from shadow play to reliance on puppetry, which requires a bit more suspension of disbelief from the audience. We can’t blame the production, though. How else are they going to depict talking fauna and diverse African flora onstage? The result feels more akin to children’s theater but with a huge budget. Heck, even Minskoff Theater is just so grandiose. Disney made the right choice to invest in this. This is defo their marquee show on Broadway.

As for the script, you get to appreciate how Disney can be a little bit meta poking fun at itself, but the dialogues do not veer away that much from the original. There are some funny ad libs here and there and they mostly work. However, The Lion King’s appeal relies more on its inter-generational draw as a Broadway show. You get the adults who are basking in the nostalgia of their childhood as well as their children who have not seen the original 1994 film but effectively being introduced to it now.

Overall, is it worth the admission ticket? Six years of coming back to New York every year and only now have I decided to see this, what with the forever elevated ticket prices that can buy you tickets to two different Broadway shows. It must be due to the pandemic that the prices have gone down a bit, but they won’t stay long there because this still proves to be one of Broadway’s most popular musicals. But surely, your Broadway journey won’t be complete without The Lion King, so by all means make it that one play you have to see on the Great White Way.

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