The Lion King

The Lion KingTonight I saw the touring company of The Lion King, at the Providence Performing Arts Center. What can I say? I must be insane. I didn’t like it. Maybe it is because I really loved the animated film and know it so well…or maybe it’s because I have seen two staged shows of it at Walt Disney World…one of them, even with puppets!
Firstly, I really had a hard time figuring out whether I should look at the actor or the puppet. I found myself longing for an all puppet show…where I couldn’t see the actors, or an all actor show, like Cats. I also didn’t like the fact that the puppet/costumes were inconsistent throughout the different characters. For instance, the lions had intricate headpieces (especially Scar); while the lionesses had faces that sat on top of their heads. I also couldn’t figure out why Mufasa and Simba didn’t have claws, when Scar had them on his hands, or should I say paws. See what I mean! And why do lions pull out swords when they fight, and then only sometimes…oh I am so confused!
My next gripe is that I feel that the new songs lay there like lead! For the most part, they were uninspiring and in my opinion slowed down the pace of the show. While I am on the subject of songs I would also say that there is way too much “Swahili” or whatever the language many of the songs were in. While the voices were pretty, I have no idea what a good portion of several of the numbers were about. Sure, give me some African flavor, but please…I only know English!
From an acting standpoint, the show is a challenge. How do you act and not just come across as just indicating thought and action when you have a puppet in your hand? I think you don’t. I felt that there was very little real communicating between the actors on stage, probably do to the fact that they have to concentrate on making the puppets indicate that they are the ones communicating. Puppet and actor onstage together just cancel each other out in my opinion. This splitting of focus keeps the audience at bay and we are just not pulled into the story.
There was also far too much, what I like to call, Uncle Tom’s Cabin staging, in reference to the ballet in the musical The King and I. Many characters run in place, react to unseen forces and the whole time I am thinking l am watching someone act out something at a charades party.
Did I like anything? Let’s see…some of the costumes where quite clever and colorful. I especially liked the woman/panther costume, her head controlled the panther’s head and it was really a cool design. Some of the staging was interesting. The wildebeest stampede was very clever given the limitations of using a stage. The voices were fine for the most part, but the principal actors seemed to not have much emotion behind their songs. There was a lot more life and enthusiasm from the chorus. The one exception I would say was the women who played Rafeeki, she was first rate all around.
Well that’s my impression. Yes, I know that it won a ton of Tony awards and thousands have seen the show and loved it. I also know that I have seen a lot of theatre, both on Broadway and off, and that this particular show was a challenge for me to stay awake… and from the 3rd row no less! Perhaps if it were a different story, and not from an animated film that I know very well I might have enjoyed it more.
I don’t think so.

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