Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Lion King - Hakuna Matata

So you know, how everyone says the musical of The Lion King is amazing.  How it's such a great story and who would've thought they could translate it to stage?  And you're all, "yeah, yeah, yeah... I saw the movie, it's about animals, and it's by Disney.  Of course it's good, but how much better could a stage show be?"  Ok, well maybe YOU weren't like that, but I was.  And I was WRONG!  I'm not sure how to describe this show, because AMAZING doesn't do it justice.  It really doesn't.  Yes, the story, the music, etc... was done for the movie, and Disney does movies REALLY WELL. But for the stage, I would say, they took the idea of a musical to a whole new level.  Strong words, right?  I don't use them lightly trust me.  I think the thing that struck me the most was the costumes and sets.  I expected the performers to be phenomenal, and they were.  I knew the story and the songs and the stage show were true to the best parts of those.  They also added a couple extra songs just for the stage show.  All of it, above par and exactly what you would expect from a show that has been playing on Broadway since 1997, played over 33,000 performances worldwide and won over 70 international theater awards.  (Yeah, I bought the program.) What I did not expect was that the costumes and sets would be full characters in the show. (Cue record scratch noise.)  I know that sounds weird, but it's true.  And I also know my attempt to explain it, will come no where near doing it justice, so after you're done reading this you should get tickets and see for yourself.

Instead  of dressing the actors up in makeup & fur (think Cats,) they interlaced the actors with makeup and masks, and in a few cases, puppets.  In doing this, they were able to utilize the actors expressions, but keep the characters in the context of being animals.  For instance, Mustafa's makeup is not of a lion at all, it's "inspired by Masai tribal decoration."  When Mustafa is in his normal day to day "voice" his emotions are conveyed through his face.  When his emotions run hot & he is conveying his power, the actor utilizes his mask. We can still see the actor's face & the emotions he's eliciting, but the costume isn't limiting his movement or voice.  By having both a mask, makeup and costume the actor is able to convey how large his emotions are, and we can see and feel them from the audience.   The pride's makeup is similar in that it isn't a direct translation of a lions face.  But in the case of Pumba & Timon, the actors are "fused" w/the puppets.  Their movements are reflective of the animal, but their ability to move and emote are not limited by the costume they wear.  (See, this is the part where you're probably going "Wha???" and it's why you really, really need to see this show for yourself.) 

In terms of the sets being a character in their own right; Africa is huge right?  They have plains of sweeping grasses, and jungles w/foliage so thick you can't see a foot in front of you.  How does one take those types of vistas and convey them on a stage?  They did it in ways that utilized the actors and the set itself.  But they also allowed room for the audience to "bridge" with their imagination.  For instance, there's a scene in which Simba is bouncing back and forth over a stream/river.  For the water they used blue, knee-high material stretched across the stage. I assume it was held on either end by people, as it was turned broadside.  An offstage fan, gently waved the fabric to emulate the movement of water.  They utilized lights and puppets moving behind the fabric to imply fish were swimming in the stream.  It wasn't a big scene, but it's a great example of the level of detail they went to, to convey their location.  In a scene involving "grassy plains" they have performers dressed in the different grasses.  They wear'skirts' that looked like the long yellow grass, and the movement of these 'skirts' implied the movement of those grasses in the wind.  The performers wear 'hats' or platforms of green grass.  The costumes allowed them to evoke the movement and different heights that these grasses would have been at in a large plain in Africa.  The imagination of the designers is truly phenomenal. 

Of note, my girls are scaredy cats. (That's the understatement of the century.)  I'm the Queen of the Horror Novel, so I am perplexed by my kids' inability to disconnect reality from fantasy.  (The oldest one is 9yo now.  She won't even attempt to read Harry Potter, yet!  How is she even related to me???)  Both my kids were leery of this show because (spoiler alert!) Mustafa dies in it.  We talked it through, and they've seen the movie, but both had misgivings about it.  We told them we would let them leave if it got too hairy.  (Yeah, right.) It never did though.  My  6yo had a little bit of trouble understanding that, that's what happened when Mustafa did die.  There are so many things going on, I think she had a little trouble putting it all together, which was good, for us.  Our tickets were for a weeknight and I was concerned about such a late night on a school night.  In the end, my girls LOVED it and I ended up declaring the next day as a mental health day and we spent it in our PJs. (Hakuna Matata, right?)  The experience was well worth it.  I'm so glad I decided it was worth a late night.  While there were kids as young as 2 or 3 in the audience, it's a LONG show.  Your kid may love it, but the theater is packed, and I would recommend kids being at least 5yo for such a performance.   At the very least, consider the cost vs leaving early, and the other patrons who paid to see the show too.  Lastly, I would be amiss if didn't mention that I did receive my tickets, along with a VIP package to attend this show.  This was actually part of how I got my two scaredy cats to go.  We had a meet & greet w/the adult actors who played Simba & Nala.  Seeing them out of makeup before hand really made a huge difference for my kids.  They did not ask me what to write, only that I write my honest opinions in regard to this show.  I have two friends who have already purchased tickets, per my experience.  I know you won't be disappointed if you do the same.

The Lion King is playing in the Orpheum Theature in San Francisco through January 13, 2013.  You can contact them online or by calling 1-888-746-1799.