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The Lion King - Anaxila / Babbles
The Lion King
I just got back from seeing The Lion King. And sadly, it just really didn't work for me at all. I can see what everyone raved about, and agree that Julie Taymor is a brilliant woman, but they didn't take it nearly far enough for my tastes. There were hints of greatness, but they never got to take flight. Because either you're: A) doing a crappy, mindless by-the-numbers movie re-enactment with Disney On Ice levels of characterization and acting, or you're B) not. You can't do both.

There were parts of it that were transcendently beautiful, elements that were totally innovative, surprising and clever, magical, and unlike anything else out there. Some of it was the best theatrical puppetry I can imagine (though the fact that I can even imagine good puppetry for grown-ups is a product of growing up in the town with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre; I can only imagine how hard it is for everyone else who wasn't so lucky). The African chants and dancers and actors were uniformly top-notch. And then... there was everything else.

The acting and singing and dancing among the principals was so bad, I just sat and boggled at the unprecedented levels of badness. Where did they find these people? The little boy who played Young Simba was totally lip syncing, which confused me because he couldn't act or dance either so really... what were our casting criteria exactly? Did he fit the costume? Who let that kid up on the stage? And in fact, all speaking-parted lions universally sucked. Which, for a show titled lion king -- they should really look into that.

But easily the part that was most painful was the line-by-line, word-for-word, inflection-for-inflection re-enactment of the movie script. In fact, everything overly-faithful to the movie was completely lifeless and dull. Only when they busted loose from the movie constraints did anything really come to life, but there wasn't nearly enough of that. At nearly three hours long, the show had everything the movie had, plus their own stuff. If they'd only told the movie parts a different way, it could have been great. I would pay good money - well, good money again - to see a re-telling of this story staged for grown ups. I could almost feel the show wanting to break off from the Disneyification and do its own thing, but couldn't and that was sad. What they had was a great start, and I longed for them to take it the rest of the way.

On the upside, I had a great seat, and the spectacle was awesome. Mine was the best seat in the house, as far as I could tell. I think musicals need to be seen from a bit of elevation, so I was in the first balcony, in the center of the front row. I was close enough to see the kid was lip-syncing, but far enough back and up to get some perspective on the spectacle, which makes it just about perfect for me. I was a bit stressed on arrival - nearly missed the curtain due to spending AN HOUR on the tube getting from Paddington to Covent Garden. Don't even ask. Also, the children seated behind me kept kicking my seat constantly, rhythmically, without end, and throughout the entire evening never went more than 2 minutes without rustling through their extremely noisy and crinkly plastic bag of candy. Grrrrr. Obviously, it's a kid-friendly show and much slack should be cut, but I am a mean bad bitter old woman and it was all I could do not to turn around and thwap their dads on the nose for being so oblivious.
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