Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Lion Eyes

While I was on Light Rail halfway to downtown San Jose, Marilyn, the friend with the Lion King tickets, phoned to tell me she had lost her wallet, including driver's license and tickets. That was at 7:10. I figured she would find her stuff in plenty of time for the 8 pm curtain, but she didn't. She called back at about 7:30 to say she wasn't going to make it.

I went to the theater anyway, figuring LK would be sold out, and since I was all dressed up in my Thai silk suit, I could go somewhere like the tech museum and see their IMAX film, or maybe Tied House or some other dive and sit there looking pretty. A 7:50 I went into the lobby, and it turned out they had most of the balcony un-sold, so I paid way too much for a ticket there.

The seats were okay, it's a small theater and even halfway back in the balcony I could see facial expressions and didn't need binoculars. As with all shows these days, it was miked, so hearing was no problem.

I don't have much to say about the show. I have a lot to say about the bios in the program. It's a huge cast, and except for a small handful, they all chose to share their religious beliefs in their bio . One actress didn't write a bio at all, she just had that "for he so loved the world" quote. Made me want to puke. The good news is I didn't read the bios until I was on light rail going home.

I've been in theater a LONG time. For several years I edited programs for Menlo Players, and have written dozens of bios for myself and fellow cast members. I have never once been given a bio which thanked any deity for anything, anywhere or at any time. Shout-outs of any kind, especially religious ones, in my not at all humble opinion, have no place in a theater program. Program bios are a mini-resume, and just as you would never thank Jesus My Personal Savior on a resume, you should not be putting that in your program bio. And the editor of the program shouldn't be allowing those in.

So how was the show? Very mixed reaction. The opening number was overwhelming, Busby Berkeley meets Jim Henson. The animal costuming was breathtaking. Instead of putting people into animal outfits, they built several different kinds of animal costumes:

Lions wore a headdress with a lion's head. They were bare-chested with some body paint, and knee pantaloons which reminded me of The King and I. Lionesses wore lioness headdresses and baggy lion-colored floor-length tunics.

Giraffes were in costumes where the person's head was at the bottom of the animal's neck, and the legs were stilts built inside the costume. You had to be there - when they first walked across the stage they got a round of applause - very well done.

But most of the animal costumes were actually puppets worn by the actors. Legs were sometimes rendered as walking sticks. For example, zebras were a life-sized zebra puppet worn by the actor, whose body came through the saddle area of the zebra. The actor held rods in each hand which were attached to the front hooves, and he/she could move the legs with them. Antelope were done by the actress wearing a rig which had an antelope mounted on each side, and one over her head. They were on a semi-circular frame which she could make them "leap" along. Two of the main characters were full-sized puppets which the actors held in front of them.

So, amazing animal costume design. Beach Blanket Babylon does the Serengeti. Human costumes were your basic African gospel chorus with some Caribbean thrown in. Nothing special.

I was also impressed by the mechanical stage design. They brought in their own stage platform, which had all kinds of trap doors, steam shooter ports, and a clever gadget which allowed them to mechanically rake the stage (raise the back and turn a flat stage into several levels).

And that's where my being impressed ends.

Choreography was unimaginative, too busy, and trite. Music was over-arranged, and I was not surprised to see seven or eight "additional music by" credits. It sounded like orchestration by committee. The sound was harsh, too much treble, very little bass. There were no outstanding voices in the cast - everyone sounded like they were singing above their range. Far too much of the lyrics were in African languages, with no English - the only phrase which was explained was the ubiquitous Hakuna Matada.

I do have to say I enjoyed the first 30 seconds of Rafiki (the baboon/witch doctor) talking in one of the bush languages with all the pops and clicks. But she went on for nearly 5 minutes, which was way more than anyone needed.

Except for Can You Feel The Love Tonight, none of the tunes or lyrics were memorable. The plot was Standard Disney. I won't ding the acting because it's a children's show, and no subtlety is required.

I'm not telling Marilyn I saw the show. I don't want her to feel sorry for me paying for a ticket. I'm not concerned that she would feel left out - she was in no mood to enjoy the show, and would have spent the performance worrying about her missing wallet and wishing we were in the front row (her tickets were on the sides of row A) instead of the balcony.

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