When it comes to Broadway, most of my experiences were with the more satirical plays. When it wasn’t rehashing quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spam-a-lot consisted of a lot of jabs at traditional Andrew Lloyd Weber, likewise while Avenue Q was not directly a satire, it was definitely a send-up of the coming of age story that often plagues the theater. Now, that I think of it, the only real traditional one I saw was Spring Awakening during Pratt’s 2007 orientation and I have a strong feeling that it was one of those love-it or hate-it kind of things (with my feelings leaning more towards the latter than the former).
So when my Pratt friend April wanted to watch The Lion King on Broadway, I was definitely excited due to the fact that I’ve been watching that DivX file of the Disney film on my Desktop for quite a few months (If that thing wasn’t in the wretched Disney Vault for so long, I’d probably even have the DVD of it) but I didn’t feel like it could outdo the film, not at all, especially given all the limitations of the Broadway format. Looking back however, I feel like the limitations were what made the Broadway adaptation so successful, they had to compensate with extra creative muscle, but I’ll get more into that later.
I got the tickets for the thing about a month and a half in advance and decided to come in at around 1 PM or so to have some time to hang out before the 8 PM show. This involved a run over to some of my favorite places, including familiar spots like Forbidden Planet and what would have been the Virgin Megastore (totally closed down), followed by some Bubble Tea at Saint Alp’s by Astor Place and then a stroll through the delightfully bizarre but all too brief Toy Tokyo.
On the way there, I passed by 99 Miles to Philly, which was a restaurant I’ve always wanted to visit ever since I read a post about it on Philly based animator Bryan Brinkman’s Twitter. Consequently, I wound up eating there for lunch and I can safely say that my “Steak wit Wiz” was definitely on par with the sandwich I’ve had in Philly and it was miles ahead of my own cheese steaks I’d make at home. I think I’ll heat up the cheese whiz a bit more and get even thinner steaks for my consequent attempts. The place was a good deal though, for ten bucks they gave you a sickly foot long greasy cheese steak with some waffle fries and a coke, for a non-chain in New York City, this is a pretty good deal.
Factor in some hanging out in Times Square and a relatively fancy pizza place and it was time for the 8 o’clock showing of Lion King. My initial impressions of the theater were incredibly favorable. They had some of the fancy African wood costumes behind the glass and a few fairly extensive gift shops throughout. Seeing all the merchandise, I should have been disgusted but for some reason I was impressed by the amount of detail and attention they put towards the effort, I could totally understand how the show had legs on Las Vegas whereas efforts like Avenue Q could only strive in New York City.
Our cheaper $60 tickets were literally against the wall in the highest mezzanine so we got a pretty decent view of the crowd going there. I was surprised that only about half the crowd consisted of families, while the rest were just Average Joes and middle-aged tourists going in to take a show. This could be because I was seeing it on a Thursday night and that is less than ideal for most families, especially ones with young children to see it, but I’d like to tell myself its because The Lion King is as synonymous with Broadway as Phantom of the Opera.
Watching Lion King on Broadway was an incredibly nostalgic experience for me, often I’d get chills down my spine, not too different from the chills I got when I first saw WALL-E, from something being so perfect its depressing and from it hitting an emotional chord with me. Especially when this was paired with a room full of people cheering and clapping incredibly loudly at every joke, punch line and dance sequence. Its weird, it was almost comforting to be around so many people that were that taken into the show.
While I’m pretty sure much of the praise for the show has already been said and much better than I possibly could write about it over the past 11 years of its run, I was completely taken away from the imagery, especially the dancers which would represent things as direct as giraffes and elephants, all the way to the more abstract such as blades of grass. The show kept things classy, even by Disney standards and the African art direction never came off as forced as it seemed in the commercials for the play. A lot of the more difficult sequences were pulled off in silhouette or with shadow puppets, while some of the characters were controlled by Avenue Q style puppetry with other objects being portrayed with kites and streamers, further making the play feel like some weird African themed Kabuki theater of sorts.
I was particularly impressed with the set for the show, which was rigged full of steam powered jets and was fully movable with trap doors and a lot of the pieces being on wheels. Absolutely every scene from the Disney movie was pulled off on the set, from the stampede all the way over to the climatic fight sequence off the cliff of Pride Rock. It was all a visual overload of sorts and I feel it goes without saying that the music was incredibly strong as well, like even topping the phenomenal score from Elton John and Hans Zimmer for the feature film.
When it ended the entire packed theater gave the thing a standing ovation, which is something I’ve never seen for a Broadway play. My only real complaint with the thing was that I haven’t seen it earlier, particularly when the thing was new to Broadway. Had I known I’d like the thing this much, I would have put the thing a lot higher on my priorities list.
…and no, I have not sold out to the Disney corporation…but I totally would...