Sunday, September 20, 2015

THE LION KING: Circle of Tears

I had never seen The Lion King, I really don't think I have ever seen the movie the whole way through. It's a complicated thing. I'm not a fan of anything Disney, and it came out about a year after I returned from Africa. I was all pur-leese, been there, done that, not going to see anything animated about it. The stage show confounded me moreso, my theory was there is NO way anything African could translate to the terms of my experiences.

Having said that, I love the music. Circle of Life, man, Elton knows how to manipulate your feelings, that is a killer of a song.

Over the years, I have had opportunity to see the show, especially when I was in New York, but didn't.

When I realised a new production would be playing when I was in Melbourne I knew I had to see, go and see what the fuss was.

And I admit to being excited about it, having absolutely NO IDEA what I was in for. 

I had great seats in the glorious Regent Theatre, upstairs second row middle/right on the aisle.


I could see two sets of percussions in the two boxes either side of the stage, I also noted stairs leading up to the stage. This intrigued me, knowing that would mean some kind of entrance or exit with the stage. 

And then the lights went down, and I saw the most spectacular opening to ANYTHING I have EVER seen...and I have seen a lot.

That first 10-15 minutes is NOTHING short of perfection, I am weeping now as I type a month later.

As soon as Rafiki (a Mandrill) appears on stage and sings her first note, Naaaaahhh (that gorgeous African spiritual chant), every hair on my body stood on end and endless streams of tears fell from my eyes. I hear male voices harmonising and realised they were upstairs, one very near to where I was sitting, the percussionists started, and then the animals began to appear on stage.

I just didn't know where to look, it was the most remarkable thing. And those people/puppets really really looked like African animals. Julie Taymor is an absolute genius. Then I realised more animals were coming through the aisles downstairs and headed towards the stage, including a giant elephant.

By this point, I was so moved, I was trying not to sob out loud, you know when you cry and your bottom lip trembles, yep that was me! Of course also the music had moved into Circle of Life, I was gone, I cannot believe I was so stupid not to have seen this on Broadway!!!

What Taymor does with puppets and people to evoke the movement of African animals is nothing short of miraculous. Her background was Indonesian Theatre and Puppetry and you can see that. She used bicycle frames with people pushing or peddling them to produce elands and impalas dancing across the stage. Stilts to perfect the steady yet wobbly gait of a giraffe, incredible masks for the lions and hyenas. The colours were right, the movement was perfect, the music heightened everything.

And the stage was full, so very very full. I LOVE a full stage, a grand spectacle, this was more than anything I have ever seen on stage.

After that opening I settled a little, but was pretty much emotional throughout. Now I am moved pretty easily, a crier, a sobber, this is true. But there was something so fabulous about what I was seeing, coupled with the music, that just set me off. I knew the basics of the story, so nothing was a surprise. The acting and singing was superb, the set design and movement between the sets swift and fluid. The orchestration and percussion work sublime. Seriously not a bum note anywhere.

In particular the buffalo stampede was nothing short of magic, so very cleverly put together, it seemed as if thousands of buffalos were heading off the stage.

Of course Act 1 ends with humour and the introduction of Pumbaa and Timon, and Hakuna Matata. And then in Act 2 the perfection of Can You Feel The Love Tonight, one of Elton's best, which I had forgotten was in the show, had me sobbing again.

I left the theatre with the songs in my head, a smiling yet red and puffy face. 

I have no more words, except if you haven't seen this, it is a must. There is a reason it is the most beloved stage musical of all time, and I cannot believe it took me almost 20 years to see it myself!

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