As spectacles go, it's, well, spectacular. It's The Lion King, of course. Trawled in 853.8 million dollars as of April this year, highest grossing Broadway show of all time, according to whoever puts this stuff in Wikipedia. And judging by the roars of approval from the packed house at the Arsht Center the other night it's going to be doing very well during its Miami run.
If you're not entirely comatose you'll know that the brilliant work of director and costume designer Julie Taymore is the driving force behind The Lion King's success. She is also the co-designer of the masks and puppets and contributed additional lyrics. A one woman show supported by either 50 or 500 excellent actors. Forgive me if I miscounted; I didn't realize there were four actors in the elephant. And a young one in the baby elephant, hooked trunk to tail to its mother.
This extraordinary musical opens with the animals parading down the aisles to the music of Elton John and Tim Rice's lyrics and just gets more oohy and aahy as the show progresses. It's the usual tale, the benign King is murdered by his bad, bad brother and the young Prince, taking the blame, flees the kingdom in despair, only to return with true friends and take his rightful place as King and consign his thoroughly rotten uncle to the pits of hell. And, of course, they're all lions, with lion wives and lion girl friends. A warthog, a meerkat and a hornbill are the Prince's best buddies and three hyenas are the lickspittle minions of Uncle Evil.
According to my research assistant, Chrome, there are 25 different species of animals and birds portrayed in The Lion King utilizing 100 puppets. Just think about that a moment.
Things that stayed with me after the show: the living sea of grass, the wildebeest stampede, the very professional acting of the two young children, the music, the dancing, the singing and the sense of the African veldt and its inhabitants. The wonder of it all on that stage at the Arsht Center.
And one more thing that really stuck: Granny's bloomers being blasted right off her skinny shanks by the incredible loudness of it all. Of the dozen or so songs and chants, I could understand not one word of those in English. “Excess volume distorts.” Is that a trade secret purposely withheld from the sound men who travel with these road shows? Or it simply that having heard the songs hundreds of times over they are so familiar with the words that having a gorilla belch them through a banana would to their ears be the purest of renderings? I always believed that God gave us stage managers to take care of this sort of thing. Rant over.
You can't, in your self-written obituary, claim to be a lover of musical theatre if you haven't seen The Lion King at least once, so grab your ear plugs and trek on down to the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami. The show runs through June 10. 305-949-6722 http://www.arshtcenter.org/
All photos by Joan Marcus