Disney’s The Lion King is not only an animated children’s movie, originally released in 1994, but also a mainstage theatre production that opened on Broadway in 1997. While it began as a fixed venue show, its success soon justified a touring counterpart.i Now making its second visit to Edmonton, Simba et al. are taking the stage at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium through August 9, 2015.
While I caught the production the first time it was in Edmonton ~5 years ago, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to see it again. Yes, it turns out that I’m a sucker for Broadway musicals. Donning an evening jacket, complete with pocket square, and sporting my one of my tailored and monogrammed dress shirts, we made our way to the Jube, though I quickly found myself a bit overdressed compared to the rest of the folks in attendance. This, even though I’d ditched the tie in the car and even though most tickets were $100 – 150.ii But hey, I guess that’s only half the price of top-notch Oilers tickets, and goodness knows the kind of sloppy attire that circenses attracts. But enough orc-talk.
The performance itself flew by. Tightly choreographed and rehearsed to within an inch of perfection, with nary an extraneous note or movement, no belaboured set changes,iii nor fluffy dialogue. It was bam-bam-bam for 2.5 hours with just a single 15-minute intermission. I appreciated this. The last thing you want from live theatre is a production that feels like a waste of your time. It’s frustrating when a play seems perfectly enjoyable in and of itself, but drags on for so long that you’re absolutely drained, absolutely spent by the intermission… and so you just leave ! Goodness knows this happens to me regularly enough. I probably leave 30 – 40% of local productions for precisely this reason.iv Life’s too short to waste on humdrumery.
While a 150-minute production during which I never checked my watch was a pleasure, that was nothing compared to the peerless, over-the-top costume design. Created by Julie Taymorv in coordination with Michael Curry, both of whom I can only imagine were magicians in a former life, every individual animal was creatively and unusually craftily brought to life by the human actor inside. Scar and Mufasa in particular sported these fantastic masks that raised and lowered via an incredibly unobtrusive cantilever mechanism that changed position depending on the moods of the characters – up and out of the way when they were calm, and down and aggressive when they were feeling ready to pounce.vi
This visual versatility was mirrored elsewhere in the production, as every character had a unique costume that matched not only the scale of their relative importance on-stage and of their size as actual animals, but also balanced the realities of the scales of the human actors manning the controls. The execution of this myriad scale-shifts was at once surreal and surprisingly digestible.vii
That the story itself was not only put to music that I grew up with and therefore knew all too well – and also depicted an evil socialist (Scar) who overthrew the established aristocracy (Mufasa) and tried to paper over the previous hierarchy by promoting lazy nobodies (hyenas), only to drive the society into the ground and in doing so open the door for the next generation of aristoCATS (Simba), one who was able to overcome the fake shame of inherent inequality and assume his rightful place atop the throne – was the Best. Icing. On. The. Cake. Ever. Feel free to s/ Stalin, Tsar Nicholas II, commies, and Putin, in that order, for the above characters.
I love it when it all comes together like that. Cheers Disney.
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- The Lion King has grossed over $1 bn in the past 18 years, which is a fairly incredible sum when you take into consideration the fact that much of that was earned before the Fed’s printing presses were turned on in earnest. [↩]
- Overall, the 2`500-strong crowd struck me as the sort to vacation in Disneyland, for whatever that’s worth, and not just because the audience had a decent chunk of kids under 12. There weren’t as many as you’d think ! Maybe 10%. [↩]
- Though there were quite a number of different scenes requiring a serious number of set pieces, many of the set pieces were in fact animated by human actors, lending a flexibility to the scene transitions that would’ve been impossible with a less spartan and more fixed design. [↩]
- This respect for the finite time that I have on this planet, mostly on account of all the reading and writing I feel so utterly compelled to wedge into my waking hours, is also the same reason that I only golf twice a year and not 90 times a year the way I did growing up. Though the lack of difficulty golf presents me is also part of the reason it’s lost its lustre.
I played my first 18 of the season last week and made 4 birdies en route to a +3 score of 75. This, on a course with a rating of 68.2 and slope of 122. Not quite scratch golf calibre, but then again I’ve played 10 rounds in the last 4 seasons combined. Even when I’m rusty as hell, where’s the challenge ? [↩]
- For her work with The Lion King, Taymor won the 1998 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical and for Best Costumes. [↩]
- eg. [↩]
- And the giraffes were the absolute tits.