Lion King on Broadway

Linda and I saw The Lion King when it first came to Vancouver ten or twelve years ago. At the time it was a big deal technically, and we were awed by the puppetry. To the point where we felt it overshadowed the performers.

So, when we went to the Broadway show with our grandchildren this week, I was eager to compare the two performances.

I’m happy to say, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. In general, I felt this production did not play on the puppetry quite so much, and the performances — especially the singing — were stronger, resulting in a more balanced show.

On the other side of the coin, the technical theatre has been improved. As you might expect from a permanent theatre setting, the Broadway version used their flying system to greater effect.

One of the family members with us this week is Technical Director for the National Ballet in Toronto, and he and I agreed that the technical highlight of the show was the mask of the old king that appeared to Simba in the second act. It was simply a lion face, suspended above the stage, but it was layered in so many different media that it just came alive. I know there were projections from the front and several different layers of scrim, and there must have been a physical prop hanging there, but other than that, it was all a mystery to both of us. Which is as it should be. When you can mystify the professionals, you’ve achieved something.

The other notable part of the performance was the mandrill, Rafiki, played by Tshidi Manye, who introduces the show. A solo prologue is a difficult stunt to pull off, walking out in front of a cold audience, all keyed up for something wonderful, and she’s expected to set up the show for them, bring them in, and hype them for what is to come. And this woman comes out and starts talking in an African language! Despite this, she had us laughing and applauding in no time. A work of art. The rest of the acting, including the bit parts, was excellent. I hate to say it, but Scar was a standout. Bad guys always have more to work with, no matter how we hate them, and Stephen Carlile had…well…class. In an evil way.

The singing was stellar, and the sound quality excellent, from the quietest whisper to the loudest chorus

Bottom line: The adults enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it, and the end came way too soon.

Five enthusiastic stars.

About the Author: Gordon Long

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