I really wanted to see this musical to see the puppetry and the staging, not for the plot or the music. To quote Mom: you can't call it "great theater" but the costuming and the staging was nothing I've ever seen.
As advertised, this was very different - and sometimes amazing - puppetry and presentation. At times, I was reminded a tiny bit of the "making of" shows I saw of Jim Henson productions. The people were everything from giraffes to flocks of birds. The opening Pride Rock "Circle of Life" scene had a leopard, a rhinoceros, and even an elephant walking down the aisles onto the stage. The puppetry, the physicality, and the minimalist set with fabulous set-work were fantastic to see from up close where we sat. The details were astounding.
It was Disney's Lion King
, which, like Beauty and The Beast
, follows the same plot as the base movie but not the same music. In the theatrical re-do for both of them, there is a little more explanation of issues. In BaTB
, there was some added character motivation in "I Can't Wait to Be Human Again." In Lion King
, the destruction and desolation of the pride lands is explained in both Sarabi saying so (complaining so) to Scar as well as in the few desultory jumps of the skeleton gazelles across a grey-tinted set. Oh, look, over-hunting and drought. Got it.
One of the weirder things was the cast. I'm so subconsciously used to white-washed casts that it was weird to notice that I noticed the three white guys and the one non-black woman (I think she was Asian of some kind) contrasted against an otherwise all-African/African-American cast. It was also amusing that the two timpanists were white guys (working against the white-guys-rhythm-problem stereotype). I wonder how intentional it was that the worry-warts Zazu and Timon, and the bad guy Scar, were the white guys.
The music was full of sound and fury, and the lyrics were very hard to hear, even when I knew they were supposed to be in English. Thunderbird_1956 pointed out that I had one specific speaker pointed right at me, so maybe that lack of stereo was a part of the problem. Zazu's breaking of the fourth wall did not add as much as it detracted from the continuity of the story. (Mom thought the crack about Target was funny.) The bridge into punk/club dancing for the hyena "Be Prepared" scene was also head-tiltingly odd, and one of those dancers was juuuuuust a bit off.
On the other hand, Young on-stage Nala had a larger role than in the movie, especially as some snappy harmony/contrast in "I Just Can't Wait to Be King." The actress playing her had good stage presence and excellent diction. Young Simba was forgettable, but did the job well enough. Pumba as a character and as an actor still stands as my favorite part of the show, followed closely by Rafiki. In the stage show, Rafiki was a female, which didn't matter to me. What did matter was that she had a fabulous vocal range and did a wonderful job with both "Circle of Life" and "He Lives in You." So, basically, the best person got the job as far as I can tell. As a group, the hyenas were tons of fun, and the guy playing Ed really had the happy-dumb attitude going.
In conclusion, I'm quite pleased that I went, and have absloutely no regrets about spending the money for row N orchestra tickets. And I remain convinced that Disney squandered some amazing soundtrack work on a rather shallow plot.