Last night, I saw the Lion King on Broadway for the third time, and oh my sweet Christmas it is an amazing show.
The show follows the plot to the movie very strongly, but it’s more like a director’s cut version of the film. Just about everything you remember from the movie is in the show, but with numerous scenes either being expanded or new scenes being added that were only eluded to in the film, such as Nala leaving the Pride Land and her reason to do so. There are even completely brand new scenes such as Zazu talking to Mufasa about parenting and Timon almost drowning from a trip over a waterfall when Simba freezes up due to the similarity to the traumatic event when Mufasa died.
The costumes in the show are absolutely amazing to look at. Most of the animals are elaborate puppets, but are much more representative of their animal than they are literal. With each animal, you can still see the person operating them, but it does not detract from the experience at all. For instance, the Giraffes are people wearing stilts on both arms and both legs and the neck and head of the giraffe being a very large hat. A Cheetah is a puppet that the puppeteer wears around his/her waist where the back legs are operated by the puppeteers legs, the front legs are operated by long poles, and the head is attached by a rope to the puppeteer’s head. The design of the puppets is made to look significantly tribal in nature, with many of them featuring tribal designs in the fabrics, or some of them, like the massive elephant puppet, looking like they are made out of thatching. The lions themselves are much more representative than any of the other characters, they look the most like people out of any of the characters, with really the only visible lion traits being a tail (which really only Scar has) or headdresses, which in the case of Mufasa and Scar, lunge forward when the actor bends over, simulating more cat-like movements.
Timon, Pumbaa, and Zazu are my favourite puppets in the show. Timon is operated by a man dressed in all green clothing and the puppet covers a large part of his body. The actor’s feet operate Timon’s feet, his arms can operate each of Timon’s arms, and his hand operates the mouth of the puppet. Pumbaa’s puppeteer operates the mouth and tongue of the full body puppet, which allows for some very funny physical gags related to Pumbaa catching things in his extra large mouth, or slapping Timon with his tongue. Zazu is the one character in the show that looks the most different from everyone else. The costume designers took the idea that he is British and ran with it. Zazu wears a bowler hat, a blue tailcoat that looks like feathers, some bright orange dress shoes, and carries a white Zazu puppet.
The scenery is exceptionally minimal, with a large amount of the scenery actually being cast members dressed as plants. There are a few set pieces, such as Pride Rock and the Elephant Graveyard that can be moved around the stage to fill different roles and perspectives as needed.
The music combines music from the film with completely new music and songs. The show does not have the standard orchestra pit that other Broadway shows has, but rather goes for a much more tribal sound with plenty of drums of different sizes and sounds along with various kinds of flutes and xylophones. The new songs are fantastic and a number of them are based off of the score from the film or from the album Rhythm of the Pride Lands. “He Lives in You” (which found it’s way into the Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride for some odd reason), “Shadowland” (known as “Lea Halelela” on Rhythm of the Pride Lands, but added English lyrics to the Broadway version), and “One by One” are all from Rhythm of the Pride Land and they flow perfectly into the pacing of the show. “He Lives in You” is an amazing song that really encapsulates the message of the story in a perfect and exceptionally catchy manner and “Shadowland” gives Nala some much needed stagetime and shows just how strong of a character she is in the show.
“The Morning Report” (which as of June of 2010 has been cut from the show, for some odd reason) is one of my favourite new songs and was added to the film when it was rereleased to IMAX and subsequently removed from the film when it was rereleased in 3D (which leads me to believe that Disney is now having an anti-”Morning Report” stance, which is surprising considering their apparent love of puns). A few songs were added to the show like “Grassland’s Chant” and “Lioness’ Hunt” that really don’t serve any purpose to the story, but provide transitions to the story. ”The Madness of King Scar” is a wonderful new song that really shows that Scar is not fit for ruling and adds a bit of comic relief to the otherwise slimy character while also setting up the motivation for Nala leaving the Pride Lands. The best new song in the show, and what I consider to be the best song in the show, is “Endless Night”. The song really shows just how confused Simba is as to his life as he struggles with his past and what he was taught as a child. It is a beautiful and haunting song that helps to turn his life around in the story.
The show manages to seamlessly blend old and new with a distinctive artistic style that is equal parts Lebo M (one of the composers of the new music) and Julie Taymor (the director of the show and director of Across the Universe and the ill-fated Spider-Man musical). If you have the means to, definitely go see this show. Even if you know the movie backwards and forwards, there is still more than enough in this show to keep you immensely entertained, and as I saw last night, it even keeps children entertained and quiet throughout.