10 reasons why I will be able to take my grandkids to see “The Lion King”
Disney’s “The Lion King” is back at the Pantages Theatre through mid January of 2014.
A big cat sized snore to that, you say, and well you might. With “Phantom of the Opera” off the touring circuit – at least for now – the Julie Taymor-directed, Elton John/Tim Rice-scored adaptation of the 1994 Disney animated movie has become about as ubiquitous as those Peptol Bismol pink stars lining the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard.
This is in no way to minimize the impact of this remarkable show… 16 years on Broadway, the 4th longest running show in Broadway history, more than $1 billion grossed worldwide, the first Tony award to a woman director, on it goes.
And as easy as it may be to shrug off the return engagement, to cringe over shelling out close to $100 to see basically the exact same spectacle that was here last time…and the time before that…a return visit from Simba, Mufasa, mean old Scar and those doofusy hyenas remains an event. On opening night, I took my 6 year old son and his 14 year old brother who was probably 7 the last time “The Lion King” was here. I’ve seen the show with my ex-wife and on an early date with my current wife.
I somehow suspect “The Lion King” will continue to be an event when I can bring my grandchildren.
Forthwith, in no particular order, are 10 reasons why this is so.
10. The dad kicks the bucket. Not only is Mufasa snuffed, he’s murdered. This rarely happens in Disney tales which tend to favor bumping off mom. Now, even if you’ve been living under a (Pride) rock for the last several decades or have not seen the 1994 movie, you know this is coming. And the show embraces this inevitability. “The Lion King” is structured such that an actor with a mighty alto (L. Steven Taylor with the current tour) gets to bellow and frolic with little Simba before he’s thrown off that cliff and trampled in a stampede. The character gets a great exit and a great dream second act re-entrance. Nobody forgets Mufasa.
9. “Shadowland.” Best number in the show bar none. No, it’s not in the movie. John and Rice didn’t have anything to do with it. This one came from Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina and Lebo M. The young lioness Nala says goodbye to the ravished Pridelands and goes in search of relief. A partial duet with the pride of lionesses and baboon Rafiki, “Shadowlands” builds and sweeps and knocks you out. That song helped launch the musical career of Heather Headley way back in 1997. In 2013, Nia Holloway (Nala), Brown Lindiwe Mkhize (Rafiki) and chorus are nightly raising goosebumps with it at the Pantages as we speak.
8. Taymor’s costumes. She won two Tonys - for direction and for costumes, and you can see some of the masks in the lobby. The creation of the animals, suggested through headdresses, partial costumes, puppets (co-designed by Michael Curry) and props evoked the animated characters and took them a significant step further. Design wise, these costumes were and still are game changers. Actors – principal or ensemble members – can easily step back into them, returning to the “King” on Broadway, on tour or internationally.
7. “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” – Translation: “Here comes a lion, Father.” This first sung line, blasted out by aforementioned baboon herald Rafiki, has become iconic both within the musical theater and among those with an eye toward parody. It’s also a calling card, part of “The Lion King’s” imprint. Its recognizability signals comfort; it is, in many cases, the first live musical theater words an audience member will ever experience.
6. “It hurt that my friends never stood downwind.” -- There was a time when I thought it debasing that an artist the caliber of Julie Taymor and “The Lion King” team would have to troll for kiddie laughs with fart jokes. But, again, when you consider “The Lion King” as a passkey into the world of live performance for the young set, well God bless the generations of jolly actors playing Pumbaa the cowardly flatulent warthog, from originator Tom Alan Robbins all the way down to the current tour’s Ben Lipitz. High art is all well and good. Gas engenders laughs. Go figure.
5. Four young actors who “just can’t wait….” -- It’s more than just an “aw” factor. A pair of boys trade off the role of Young Simba with a pair of girls alternating as Young Nala. They are highly cute, rigorously prepared and a vital part of the action. Perched on dayglo giant birds, they lead the frisky “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” and they likely inspire dreams of kids in the audience to try out this acting thing. Then they grow up to pursue this dream or a different one. Either way, generational continuity is wicked cool. Let’s see where the tour’s Jordan A. Hall, Nya Cymone Carter, Zyasia Jadea Page and Nathaniel Logan McINtyre are 10 years from now.
4. The lobby of the Pantages Theatre – a stately grand dame that endured a multi-million dollar renovation to allow “The Lion King” to come in the first time. Every person who sets foot in that theater, no matter what the show, reaps the benefit. “TLK” made it happen.
3. Rafiki – Voiced by “Benson’s Robert Guillaume in the movie, the shaman baboon undergoes the largest transformation from screen to stage and not simply because the stage role is always played by a woman. We rarely know what she’s saying when she’s chattering away, shaking her can or otherwise mugging to the audience. But she’s the musical’s tour guide and slightly crazy goodwill ambassador. Mkhize takes up those duties with brio and finesse.
2. “Spider-Man Turn off the Dark” is untourable. -- The musical which unceremoniously booted Julie Taymor, inspiring law suits, injuries and infamy, will go from Broadway to Vegas. Post-Vegas future: unknown. One thing seems clear. “Spider-Man” will never have a road life to siphon audiences away from “The Lion King.”
1. “Circle of Life” – Shortly after “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba,” the costumed cast parades down the aisles placing those magnificent creatures, costumes and puppets on full display. That opening number makes for an introduction that should stay in a theater-goers mind forever. It’s a “Can’t top this” scene. But “The Lion King” does.
“The Lion King” plays 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thur., 8 p.m. Fri-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p,.m. Sun.; through Jan. 12 at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. (800) 982-2787, HollywoodPantages.com.