Last week I FINALLY got the opportunity to see The Lion King at the Orpheum Theatre here in Minneapolis. Like most of my generation, I was raised on Disney movies. This was way before Dora and SpongeBob, so I knew what to expect with the great 1994 story line and funny characters! The musical debuted July 8, 1997, here in Minneapolis. It was an instant success before premiering on Broadway, so I was so excited to see it in its original home!
We started off the evening with dinner and drinks at American Burger Bar, and then headed across the street to the theatre. Walking into the theatre was the most diverse crowd I’ve ever seen in a Minnesota Theatre, and it definitely put a smile on my face! I knew that we’d be seeing an almost all-black cast, so I definitely felt proud seeing so much support from the black community. Such a dramatic difference from when I saw Cinderella last week.
Once the lights dropped, we were taken to the jungle! They did a fabulous job using the entire theatre. The costumes, ornate puppetry and design elements didn’t hide the actors. The first scene of the musical was The Circle of Life, and definitely one I will never forget! We got to see a dozen different jungle animals, and the way they created these huge elephants, moving stages, and sky-scraping giraffes was unbelievable! The singing and dancing were impeccable throughout the entire play, and the makeup was dazzling. The child actors did such a great job with the singing and dancing– they really played the characters well.
They played all my favorite Elton John songs from the movie, but they were all formed around the play and actors. There was a welcome and very noticeable change, Rafiki, the Mandrill monkey was played by a female which created a leading female role. There was also a surprising added scene where King Scar tries to take Nala as his mate…and as a result, she flees the pack.
There honestly isn’t enough that I can say about the costumes the characters operated. Julie Taymor and Michael Curry are the amazing costume designer and puppeteer. The giraffe actors were walking carefully on stilts, Pumbaa and Timon had life sized puppets built around their bodies. The main lions Mufasa and Scar had mechanical headpieces. The hyenas had to shift back and forth moving four limbs and mouths along with the mechanical heads. It was also great seeing the chorus onstage during the songs, because normally they’re usually left offstage.
Overall, this musical deserved its Tony Award, and I can’t believe I waited this long to see it! I’ll definitely see it again every time I have the chance, and I suggest you see it if you haven’t already!