Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Lion King at OCPAC

There are times when life seems like a chaotic, unorganized jumble of faces and conversations; when you can hardly hold your focus as your good friend recounts her weekend dating escapades because your mind is on a deadline, a dentist appointment, or a bit of advice your dad gave you that still doesn’t sit well. Times when one minute you’re enjoying afternoon coffee on Sunday and before you know it, it’s Friday afternoon and you’re scrambling to tie up loose ends before the work week is over. Life is a blur. To quote the much-adored Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in awhile, you might miss it.”

Such is the case with the Broadway production of The Lion King; the play has been touring for nine years now, and has received consistent praise from reporters and bloggers alike. I’ve wanted to see the play for years, and finally finally made a point to see it when I heard it was coming to our own OC Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

On Friday night, I ventured out to Segerstrom Stage, giddy with anticipation for the magic I was about to partake in. Truly, my cup overfloweth with glee.

I feel the need to stop and address the issue of giving over-hyped reviews; we all have that one friend who ruins movies we would have otherwise enjoyed for their subtle wit and subdued genius had not our aforementioned friend told us with an arm-clenching grip that we have to see the greatest movie ever and we’ll love it so much. That happened when I went to see Garden State; a well-meaning friend told me it would change my life, so me and my highest of expectations bought an overpriced ticket and braved the sticky theater floors to see this work of cinematic brilliance, only to be sorely underwhelmed. That’s not to say I didn’t like the film, but it was the perfect illustration of how people can ruin decent movies for us by building up our expectations. The reason I bring this up is because part of me feared that, as I made my way to Costa Mesa to see The Lion King at long last, my expectations were too high, and I would be disappointed. I also acknowledge this phenomenon to assuage any similar concerns you have about the apparent rave review I’m about to embark on; fear not, gentle reader. All will be accounted for.

I made my way into the theater, found my seat, and waited for the lights to dim, the music to start, the magic to begin (and to simultaneously silence the masses of small children giddily in attendance). And then it did; it all happened. The lights went low and one by one, a chorus of voices joined in a triumphant exclamation of the mesmerizing “Circle of Life.” Men emerged from the aisles and balconies, only they weren’t quite men—they were rams, with great big horned heads and wooden faces with permanently stoic expressions, with captivatingly beautiful voices belting out poignant melodies. An eclectically-clad baboon (Rafiki) led them in the melodic bellowing that opens the song, and soon, an entire safari of “humanimals” emerged: zebras, gazelles, elephants and rhinos composed of at least four people, women with shoulders of white birds fluttering about, a centaur-esque half lioness, half woman character moving gracefully, and every African safari animal you can think of, all making their way slowly and triumphantly toward center stage, exploding in song about the interconnectedness of life and nature. 

[Phindile Mkhize as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING National Tour. 
(c) Disney. Photo Credit Joan Marcus] 

To explain the impact all this had on me—the entrance, the animals, the song, everything happening right around and among us—it transported me to another world not quite human but not fully animal; it was a world above such distinctions, that connected us all on a soul level. I feel myself starting to sound a little too new age-y, like one of those people who is constantly concerned about her shakra and carries around a paper voodoo notepad and a thermos of yerba mate. But honestly, jokes aside, I could go on for hours about the opening alone, and I wouldn’t be overrating it; you have to experience it yourself.

From the enchanting dance of the lionesses to the masterfully enacted stampede (I had worried it would be corny; I was wrong) to the starry skyscape that slowly reveals Mufasa’s face during Rafiki’s song of encouragement to Simba that “He Lives in You” (and he lives in me as well, according to the song), the entirety of the musical moves you to a place of peaceful connection, and renewed confidence in universal order.

 [“Lionesses Dance” in THE LION KING National Tour. (c) Disney. Photo Credit Joan Marcus]

[AndrĂ© Jackson as “Simba” and the Ensemble singing “He Lives In You.” Photo by Joan Marcus (c) Disney]

Like I said, sometimes life seems like a muddled mess of people, places, and things; The Lion King reassures us that there is order, there is beauty and connection and endless possibility, and therefore, endless hope. It also gives us hope that if an outcast lion cub, a warthog with a gas problem, and a witty Meer cat with a penchant for enthusiastic cabaret-style diversions can become best friends, connection is possible within all levels of our own disordered and often dysfunctional society.

Ten years ago, they said a stage production of The Lion King couldn’t be done. Julie Taymor, the Tony award-winning woman behind the direction and costume design of the musical proved them wrong. Nine years later, The Lion King remains one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time. Julie Taymor has directed the likes of Salma Hayek (a la Frida) and Anthony Hopkins (Titus), and played a major role in the making of Across the Universe in 2006. Taymor has a golden touch, and her vision continues to create theatrical and cinematic brilliance for us all to enjoy.

For tickets and showtimes to The Lion King, visit OCPAC's site.
For more information about Julie Taymor, click here.

on my iTunes: Elton John's "The Circle of Life"


  1. I went on the first friday night. I was disappointed that the sound was not very loud. I had high hopes as I loved the Disneyland Lion King Parade that was full heart-throbbing fun music.

  2. Oh, that's too bad! I wonder if it had to do with where you were seated? I sat sort of in the middle on the lower level, and as the animals charged down the aisles in song and the two percussion players on either side of the stage pounded away, the sound boomed all around me.

    It's also possible that you experienced opening night kinks. Either way, summer that put a damper on your experience!


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