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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nants inGONyama bagithi Baba!

The Lyceum Theatre in London
There's not much I can say that critics haven't already said about a show as big and spectacular as The Lion King. It's exciting and moving and vivid. The costumes and puppets are incredible. The sets are inspired. The presentation is altogether breathtaking.
So... I'll drop the pretension and pick up where a diary entry about it may have left off.

In fact, I'll begin by telling you that in a tiny note I wrote to myself* I scribbled "Just saw The Lion King. Incredible.... I feel so alive."

The opening to the show  initiated a palpable endorphin rush. As soon as Rafiki (Brown Lindiwe Mkhize) took the stage and opened her** mouth I knew I was leaving my mind behind and going into a magical place.

  I had never seen so much as a You Tube clip of the Circle of Life procession so everything about it was a surprise. The sight of so many silky birds looping through the air and the shock of a adolescent sized elephant tromping up the aisle beside me as voices joined in song and the stage morphed into Pride Rock made my ears tingle and my heart pound (in that really good way). Even as I sit here typing this, remembering how actors on four stilts each can look so much like giraffes gives me goosebumps.

 Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as Rafiki was absolutely phenomenal. That woman knows how to command a stage. She was able to take focus just by gesturing with one finger, but often would use her entire body to communicate not only Rafki's emotions and intentions, but also to transfer the energy of the whole scene from the stage out into the audience.

As the rest of the show unfolded I was impressed by A) how closely the musical was able to stick to the original Disney movie and B) how much of the original movie I remembered word for word. Seriously, if they had needed a tiny white girl to jump into any of those roles -  I was on the ready.***

Most of the places the story strayed were the addition of more songs, which was a net positive for the show overall. However, I could have done without the strange addition of Scar's attraction to/quest for Nala. It was only a small bit in Act Two, and a short song for Scar (George Asprey), but I found it disturbing, distracting and unnecessary. Especially because it was never mentioned again, never followed up on, never really resolved. Plus, in the movie I felt like it was implied that Scar takes Sarabi as his own since she was Mufasa's mate. Isn't that more in keeping with the Hamlet origins anyway?

I digress. so. much.

My favorite song in the musical was He Lives In You, which I promptly downloaded from iTunes and committed to memory. Through some terribly geeky research I found out that He Lives in You was written and performed by Lebo M in a 1995 CD called Rhythm of the Pridelands, and was used in The Lion King II  before being adapted for the staged version of The Lion King. The song They Live in You which Mufasa sings to Simba in Act One was adapted from He Lives In You which Rafiki sings to Simba in Act Two. I can NOT believe that this song has existed for years and I only now got around to hearing it.
The staging of the song was also my favorite part of the show. I can't describe it to you well enough. Like John said in his blog, you should really go see it if you can.

At the end of the show, just as in the movie,  the opening sequence is mirrored, showing that everything has come around fully in the Circle of Life. This time the kite-like birds and the graceful antelope dancers didn't surprise me, but I was still just as floored. All those voices lifting up in song, the lights creating an African sunrise, the animals swaying to the music sent me into a euphoric state.

 It's incredible to me that a musical can create such strong emotions.  "I feel so alive," I wrote to myself in my note, and just looking at that sentence right now I remember exactly how I felt. I felt hopeful, and I felt inspired. I felt like I wanted to call my Mom and tell her I loved her. I wanted to dance with strangers and make children laugh.  I wanted to hug Brown Lindiwe Mkhize. I wanted everyone I know to see the show and feel how I felt.
I want everyone to feel so alive.
* I have a habit of dropping myself tiny notes to remind myself of feelings I am feeling when I'm feeling them.
** I thought Rafiki was just being played by a female, and was still a male character the same way Peter Pan is often cast as a female in Broadway productions. However, according to several  internet sources director Julie Taymor chose to change Rafiki's gender to female altogether to give the show another strong female character.
*** I have no idea why I can remember every single word to a Disney movie and not remember how to conjugate Spanish verbs, but so be it.


liz said...

Okay, so M and I watched The Lion King together about a month ago (maybe around the same time you were seeing it onstage?), and three things:

1. I was also able to speak along with pretty much the entire movie, word for word.

2. We were joking in the beginning about what if Elton John had only agreed to do the movie if the rest of his catalog could be incorporated somehow - like if Rafiki had to burst into "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)" at some arbitrary point. Trying to choose and call out moments where Rafiki could burst into "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)" is pretty much the funniest thing you can do while watching this movie.

3. The Lion King was made 15 years ago and I have seen it at least 50 times. And THIS was the time that I realized it was Hamlet.

MischMash said...

1. Me too! The only reason I didn't was because I was seeing live theater and that's just rude.

2. Sounds like we have one more item on our to do list when you come to town.

3. I can't wait to introduce you to a little film I call 10 Things I Hate About You.