What a wonderful phrase
Ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy
I hear Pumba and Timon singing Hakuna Matata every time I look at this photo! For my Christmas gift last year, Kenneth bought tickets for us to see The Lion King Musical in Cincinnati. The Lion King is one of my favorite Disney movies (how is it not everyone’s favorite?) and I was super excited to see the musical performed live. We caught the performance last month at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.
We had a fantastic time and I’d like to share nine of my favorite things from the show!
The music is everything I remember from the film, The Lion King, and more. It feels authentic to South Africa and the original Disney movie. We loved it so much we bought the CD, The Lion King: Original Broadway Cast Recording. The CD includes the work of the original Broadway cast singing the songs composed by Elton John, Tim Rice and South African choral director Lebo M. Many of the songs utilize Zulu and other African dialects. It’s nice to have a piece of the show to listen to at home!
2. Favorite Scene: Opening scene, Pride Rock
I think this is one of the best parts of the movie as well, and one I often reenact with our cats (you know, holding your cat above your head while loudly and poorly trying to sing the Zulu portion at the beginning of the Circle of Life… everybody does that, right?). In the musical, part of the herd of African animals come out of the audience before making their way onstage for the presentation of Simba. I love being introduced to the show, the characters and the scene in this way. It feels like you’re being pulled into Mufasa’s kingdom!
I love the use of puppets in The Lion King! There are full body puppets, which are worn and/or operated by the cast, handheld puppets and shadow puppets. The full body puppets are used to represent single animals and herds, like the gazelle herd on wheels (see the next photo below), the cheetah and Pumba the warthog. The characters Timon and Zazu are unique hand operated puppets where the actors’ body is costumed and visible onstage, but not actually part of the character. Costume designer, Julie Taymor, refers to this as a ‘double event’ because the audience sees both the puppet and the actor at once. Shadow puppets are used a few times during the show as well.
4. The Costumes, Masks + Crowns
Could the costumes in The Lion King be anymore beautiful? They are so intricately detailed and amazingly gorgeous! We bought the program book so we could get a closer look and learn more about how the costumes were created. One of the coolest items of costuming I noticed were the crowns that turn into masks. Mufasa and Scar wear lion face crowns that shift forward and cover their faces when they bend over, essential turning into masks. It takes very anthropomorphized characters and makes them appear more wild, menacing and animal-like in a heated argument.
5. Favorite Song – Circle of Life
The Circle of Life song sets the whole tone for the production – how can it not be my favorite? It’s what I think of when I think of The Lion King and I think it is perfectly executed in the musical. It’s a beautiful song and contains a lovely message.
6. Favorite Character – Rafiki
Rafiki was not my favorite character in the film, The Lion King. I don’t remember who my favorite character was when the movie first came out, probably Simba or Nala. Rafiki in the musical is female rather than male and she’s a bad ass! She’s a mandrill monkey and plays the role of spiritual healer of the Pridelands. Her character is based on a sangoma, a shaman from South Africa. She is the only character who does not have a mask or puppet portion to her costume. She is the one who finally convinces Simba to stop living in the past and get back to Pride Rock and his family. The actress who plays Rafiki does an amazing job and has a gorgeous voice!
7. Theatrical Storytelling
One of my favorite things about theater is the myriad unique and creative ways a story can be told. To show the drought that occurs after Scar takes over Pride Rock, a large blue cloth was placed in the center of the stage. A bright light was shone on the cloth and very slowly the cloth and the light disappeared in the center of the stage (the cloth was pulled through a hole in the stage floor). The shrinking circle of blue illustrated the dwindling water supply in the savannah. Another example of the beautiful storytelling in The Lion King is the stampede scene, which is artfully depicted with different sized wildebeest masks to show depth as Simba and Mufasa run through the narrow gorge ahead of the herd.
8. Vivid Colors, Patterns + Textures
There are so many gorgeous colors, amazing patterns and textures in the costumes, props and background scenery in The Lion King. The costumes are covered in intricate patterns, beads and fur. Some costumes include grass and beaded corsets. Colors are especially bright in Zimba and Nala’s performance of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” The entire production is full of color and emotion!
9. Modern + Local References
Zazu, the red-billed hornbill who acts as Mufasa’s majordomo makes both a modern reference to a Disney film and a local reference to Cincinnati during the Broadway production. When Zazu is singing to entertain Scar, as he does in the film, Scar requests a more upbeat song from Zazu. In the film Zazu sings “It’s a Small World Afterall” to which Scar immediately rejects and then Zazu switches to “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts…” In the musical, Zazu bursts into the chorus from Frozen‘s well-known Let It Go.
When talking about his job as majordomo and mentioning that he wouldn’t want to or be able to work elsewhere, he mentions that he couldn’t just go and get a job at Jungle Jims. For non-Cincinnatians (and non-Ohioans), Jungle Jims International Market is a local, amazing, grocery store which specializes in food from around the world (Zazu might actually make a good employee there, ignoring the health code violations with having a bird working with food meant for human consumption).
It was funny to see a connection made between The Lion King and one of Disney’s more recent films and nice to have a local Cincinnati tie in the musical.
I loved this musical! I would definitely see it again and recommend it highly to any fans of Disney or The Lion King. It’s beautifully done and appropriate for audiences of all ages – a wonderful telling of a Disney classic!