Confessions of a Teenage Theater Geek: The Lion King

True Life: I’m a terrible gift-giver.

3v2h8uI’m literally the worst. Don’t expect a gift from me ever because whenever birthdays roll around I spiral into a state of utter panic and decide the only solution is to completely avoid giving any gift at all. I’m pretty sure my friends and family secretly hate me.

My ineptitude and general awfulness may have hit its peak this year when I realized it has been two whole years since I’ve given my best friend any Christmas or birthday presents. In case you forgot, I’m the worst.

Part of the reason we’re best friends is that we’re practically the same person, which includes our shared inability to perform simple tasks such as picking out a gift. I’m incredibly lucky that we both couldn’t care less about presents, but I decided this summer that I had waited long enough and was starting to feel really guilty (and I also wanted to see a Broadway show. #noshame).

My best friend Erica loves The Lion King. She doesn’t just like it. She doesn’t watch the movie occasionally. She has a full-blown obsession.

I was also born into a family that watched The Lion King so often I can recite every line. This is thanks to my dad, of course. Ask my little cousins how many times he has tried to watch that movie with them and they’ll run away screaming “NO! I DON’T WANT TO WATCH IT AGAIN! STOP ASKING ME!” Guaranteed.

gavel3-300x300The obvious choice for two Disney movie lovers was to take my best friend to see The Lion King on Broadway. I had seen the show when I was about 4 years old, but any memory of it completely disappeared into the storage bins in the back of my mind to waste away with the memories of living in the Bronx, eating Dunkaroos, and getting my diaper eaten off by a petting zoo goat. I had a traumatizing childhood.

Thank god I went to see the show again when I was old enough to fully comprehend it. The Lion King is the most visually stunning show I have ever seen in my entire life. If you haven’t seen it yet, or if you were too young when you did, you must go. That’s non-negotiable. I’ll find out if you didn’t and I’ll…I don’t know, yell at you or something.

The musical opened in 1997 under the direction of Julie Taymor, who also directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Across the Universe (no one knows where she went wrong with Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. We’ll just try to forget that show exists).

The Lion King is a stroke of pure genius. Taymor crafted this absurd visual using a combination of humans in animal costumes and giant puppets. The result is nothing short of beautiful. One of the coolest parts in this show is when the “animals” walk down the aisles of the audience during “The Circle of Life.” I was lucky enough to have an aisle seat and I’m pretty sure that as they passed my seat, my eyes lit up as brightly as the marquee outside the theater.

Side note: does anyone know how to accurately sing the opening of “The Circle of Life?” I don’t think I’ll ever learn the actual words, but that won’t stop me from singing NAAA SEEE VEN YAAAA at the top of my lungs.

Not only were the costumes and sets a visual masterpiece, but the cast was out of this world. Every character sounded exactly like the characters from the original animated film. The children who played young Simba and young Nala had the most mind-blowing voices, and Timon and Pumbaa – my personal favorite characters – were absolutely spot-on.

Photo courtesy of yohoo7/flickr

Photo courtesy of yohoo7/flickr

“The Circle of Life” is an obvious choice for biggest jaw-dropper of a scene, but honestly it’s impossible for me to choose which scene floored me the most. There was the scene where Scar and the hyenas sing “Be Prepared,” which featured every single member of the ensemble dressed in these crazy hyena costumes and marching in perfect unison.

Then there was the wildebeest stampede scene. I can’t even begin to explain how awestruck we were during this scene. The stampede flowed down from the ceiling in tiers of printed cloth, then puppets on a rotating log, then larger puppets, and then actors dressed as giant wildebeests. It was one of those scenes that you start the show thinking, “How can they possibly do this part live?” and then it goes ahead and blows your freaking mind.

Photo courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts/flickr

Photo courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts/flickr

Fun fact: the actor currently playing Mufasa has been living that role eight times a week for the last TEN YEARS. What?! That’s insane! How can one person play the same part for ten whole years and not get sick of it? Because this show is amazing and he’s perfect at it. That’s how.

This show was a phenomenal experience for me, but I think I got even more joy out of watching my best friend see her favorite movie come to life right before her eyes. I’m assuming that’s how my mother felt the first time she took me to a Broadway show that utterly rocked my world.

I will leave you with the motto that Erica and I have promised to live the rest of our lives by: Hakuna Matata.

The Lion King is currently playing at The New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway.

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Samantha Costanza