Seeing "The Lion King" for the first time in 26 1/2 years . . .
Posted by: Britannia 01:20 pm EST 02/06/23

I saw "The Lion King" for the first time last night since I saw the show in its pre-Broadway tryout with the original cast. When I saw the show all those years ago, I was a theatre newbie. It was probably my 6th show or so (all seen on tour). When I saw the show all those years ago (literally front row, center), I was blown away by the vision, by the incredible performances, and by the music. My recollection of the story was always that the storytelling was its weakest point. I have seen A LOT of shows since then (mostly on tour, but I have made 8 trips to New York since then).

Last night, I have to admit to being decidedly not blown away. I still have some of the original performances seared in my mind, but the tour cast was very good. The storytelling, though, and the staging felt decidedly weak. The book moves forward without drive, seeming to hit upon everything in the film, and the new material is hit and miss (all the Lebo M stuff is incredible and works on stage far better than the original material . . . I remember "One By One" and "He Lives in Me" being highlights before and they were again). The show relies heavily on cheap jokes that reference that it's a stage show (the joke about a scrim looking like something from Target was "Dayton's cast offs" in the pre-Broadway tryout . . . a cheap joke). The staging feels almost random. Whereas in most shows, "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" would be a well-choreographed thrill ride, the staging feels like a high school pep rally. Those birds can't do much but move back and forth and the fancy creatures just seem to hop about. The black background does nothing to add fantasy to the moment. Many of the performances were directed to be overblown, like a children's theatre performance. Even in "Circle of Life," the animals don't seem to much choreographed as shuffling about. (The choreography in "He Lives in Me" and the dance of the lionesses blew me away all over again.)

I missed "Morning Report" (I didn't realize it was cut), but I can see why it was cut. It was fun, but the first half of the show just plods along without the sense of forward movement that the movie has. I missed the ballet in Can You Feel the Love" tonight. Was that cut as well, or did it never make it to Broadway? The fact that they cut something out of a show running for so long (and so successfully) tells me someone else sees its weaknesses.

I am curious if anyone else has had the same experience with "The Lion King" or if it was just me? My friend's disappointed response to the show was that the movie was much better and as a stage show, it wasn't nearly as good as "Frozen." Although "Frozen" wasn't the high watermark of great theatre (I did really enjoy it), I have to fully agree to both statements.
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