A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Apr 30, 2010
Coming Full Circle
First, a confession: I’ve never had a desire to see the Lion King musical. I loved the Disney movie as a kid, and my sister and I even brought the soundtrack on our first trip to Africa. But when it came to the musical adaptation, I could never muster much enthusiasm. The elements that made the movie great—the thunderous action and all the beautiful, dynamic animals—couldn’t possibly translate to the stage, I thought.
But when Overture Center announced that Disney's The Lion King would be the big ticket of the season, I decided to check it out to see what all the excitement was about. I’m so glad I did because my predictions about the production were completely wrong.
Within the first few minutes of the show beginning, performers were belting out songs from the balconies and life-size animals were making their way down the aisles and onto the stage. This over-the-top opening set the tone for the bright colors, bold sounds and enticing rhythms to come.
The storyline of The Lion King was undoubtedly familiar to many audience members (It follows Simba, a cub who will one day replace his father as king of the pridelands, unless his jealous uncle Scar can intervene and claim the throne). The musical kept to the movie’s plotline but mixed things up with the music. Several hits from the movie—“Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” among them—intermingled with new songs, a combination that refreshed and deepened the story slightly.
However, the highlight of the production is the imaginative ways it deals with the challenges inherent in transitioning a story from film animation to live stage. The more than two hundred puppets, props and costumes employed were incredible to see. It took me several minutes to realize the giraffes contained people within the apparatus (they walked gracefully on all fours, with stilts extended from their arms and legs and a long neck stretching out from their heads). Scar’s hyenas were slightly grotesque, making scenes in which they moved en masse frightening.
Also impressive was when dozens of performers donned headpieces of tall green grass, representing the African grasslands; small-scale puppets simulated Simba and his friend Nala running across the fields as cubs. And I loved when the lionesses sang and danced together. The silky capes of their costumes enhanced their sinuous, feline movements.
Yet I was skeptical about how the musical’s directors and designers would pull off the stampede scene during which wildebeests run wildly down a hillside and through a valley, ultimately killing Simba’s father. But they did it powerfully through a combination of shadowy shapes moving across a screen and performers running frantically in place and chaotically around the stage.
By this point, I finally let go of all preconceived notions about the show. I sat back and allowed myself to take in the colors, patterns, textures, rhythms, drama and dazzling creativity playing out on stage and spilling into the theater. I hope you can do the same, right from the start.
The Lion King runs through May 23 at Overture Center. For tickets or more information, visit overturecenter.com.
Photos courtesy of Overture Center.