- Damaris Chanza
Watching My First Broadway Show
Updated: May 27, 2022
Walt Disney's The Lion King was released in 1994. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to watch The Lion King on Broadway.
Planning to watch the show was a whole ordeal. My family purchased the tickets a month in advance for nine people. Christmas rolled around, and two of us had COVID, and my sister and I were sick. We were scared we wouldn't heal in time for the show, or even worse, the show would get canceled due to the coronavirus. Luckily, when the day finally arrived, everything was fine.
When my family and I arrived at the Minskoff Theatre, I was ridiculously excited. I took out my ID and vaccination card and entered the building. I went up the escalator, browsed the memorabilia vendors, and made a quick stop at the bathroom. An usher guided us to our seats on the right side of the balcony. At first, I was unimpressed by the size of the theater. I was concerned my anticipation and excitement would end in disappointment. I was scared all the reviews and videos of the show were advertising hyperbole. Still, I patiently waited for the show to start.
Soon the music started, the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and there stood Rafiki. She sang in what I assume was Swahili, alone on stage. I was captivated, then I heard a gasp from the audience, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a giant elephant walking up the aisle toward the stage. When I looked back to the stage, a tall staircase had appeared. A shirtless man with sticks and what I think was an antelope costume stood three rows ahead of me and started singing and dancing. Finally, I looked back at the stage, and it was full of animals singing the Circle of Life. It was beautiful and immersive.
There are too many outstanding moments to describe them all. Each character had a personality similar to the one in the movie but somehow had more characterization. Young Nala was extra sassy. Scar was even more dramatic and occasionally creepy. Timon was hilarious and sounded like he grew up on the streets of New York. Zazu was brilliant and hilarious.
My favorite scene was when Rafiki convinced Simba to go back to Pride Rock. The lights go dark with stars in the background. As Rafiki and Simba converse, more starry lights appear. It becomes unclear if Mufasa will be composed of lights or people with props. The movement that occurred while they spoke was gorgeous, and that bit of confusion felt like part of the mystery. Suddenly, Mufasa's face magically appears on stage, granting words of wisdom. It was the perfect display of Disney magic.
The stage and set were both simple and immensely detailed. My favorite set piece was the hyena's skeleton staircase. The costumes were unexpectedly stylized. For instance, Scar's lion mask covered the actor's face whenever he crouched. The hyenas had costumes that allowed them to look like they had arched backs and articulated mouths. There were also fantastic stylized costumes like those during 'I Can't Wait to be King.' Cool contraptions like the bicycle that made antelopes leap, the rotating tube that created the illusion of a stampede, and the birds attached to what looked like giant fishing poles were all creative and straightforward solutions to make movie magic on a stage.
The actors were extraordinary. I was initially concerned about seeing animals portrayed by humans because I did not want another Cats debacle, but my fear was unfounded. The actors looked the puppets in the eye, not the humans. They moved like animals but not in a way that felt stereotypical or exaggerated. It was stylized and essential to the characters without being distracting. The seamless combination of the characters portrayed by puppets and people was unexpected but helped the story move along.
Of course, not everything was perfect, but there was barely anything worth complaining about. Be Prepared isn't my favorite song, so it didn't feel as amazing to me, but that's more preference than a fault of the performers. Although I knew it was coming, Scar's death scene felt anticlimactic and not as emotionally loaded for Simba as it did in the movie. However, these are still minor complaints and are easily overlooked by the grandiose nature of the rest of the show. Had I not taken notes on the performance, I might not have even remembered these complaints.
This is the first Broadway show I've ever seen, and I'm glad that it was so amazing. There are so many more aspects of the performance that I could recount, one more impressive than the other. Still, my words could never accurately describe the feeling of watching it live.