Craig and I saw The Lion King recently. For the first time. We’re late to the party and we know it. We were looking forward to the show “” certainly we were very aware of the theatrical experience that awaited us. So, I guess it’s a little surprising that we left the theatre… confused.
Let’s set the ground. We weren’t sitting dead on, we were off to the side. It was a touring production. But it was a Broadway touring production, which we felt meant something. Not sure it did. More on that later. Let’s talk about the good things.
We both have vivid memories of The Lion King when it arrived on Broadway. I remember seeing the opening on the Tony’s. I remember the talk, talk, talk about what Julie Taymor was trying to accomplish, how she fought and how stunningly she achieved her visions. She was clearly the driving force behind the show, acting as director, costume designer, co-mask and co-puppet designer.
I can totally understand the theory behind being blown away by the experience. It is a theatrical imagining of a cartoon, it seems an impossible task. The success of the experience is that the show doesn’t try to re-create the cartoon, it goes above and beyond to create a unique world. The audience is invited into this world and asked to suspend their disbelief. This is the African Savannah. These are lions. It’s the type of theatre I appreciate and adore. A world is suggested, rather than fully realized, and we the audience must participate in the creation of the world. We must involve our imagination. We must believe.
Further to that, we must totally buy into the puppetry. There are many types of techniques at work here from shadow puppetry to hand puppets to mask (I think the working of the Scar and Mufasa masks qualify as puppets) to full sized creatures. We must look at an actor working Timon but focus on the puppet. This takes the creation of a world to another level, a theatrical level. The audience must believe in the craft of theatre, the art of the technique. It’s an amazing concept to have an audience working on these two levels, the wonder of the imagination and the sophistication of craft and technique.
So I get that. I get what’s supposed to happen. I get the thesis behind what’s supposed to happen. I get that over the years audiences have bought into what’s supposed to happen.
And what we saw on stage, confused us. Was that really supposed to happen?
This is getting long in the tooth, so we’ll continue in my next post on Saturday….