The Lion King

Last year about this time, I bought tickets to see the Lion King production on Broadway. My wife had mentioned that she wanted to see the play and I thought that tickets would be a nice Christmas surprise. However, it was me who was surprised to find out that the play was sold out a year in advance. The gift was too good to pass up though, so I bit the bullet and bought the tickets. Sure we wouldn't see the play until November 1999, but this way, we would have something to look forward to doing. And look forward to it, we did.

As some of you may have read in an earlier article, November has not been kind to me this year. My kidney had formed a boulder and it would take several surgical procedures to excavate my insides. So as the fateful day of the play approached, I was concerned with my ability to attend. I still had a stint installed and I was in constant pain. But, Deb was excited about going and I could not disappoint her.

We decided to take the train from New Haven to maximize savings and minimize time and wear and tear on the archeological site that was my Urethra. I brought along plenty of pain meds for the trip, just in case. The ride is not bad when your zonked out on Percoset and bladder pain medicine that turns your pee blue! Finding a cab to the theater from Grand Central proved to be impossible so we walked instead. As it turned out, the New Amsterdam theater was only 5 blocks away so the walk wasn't too bad.

The theater itself is beautiful. It is a grand old structure filled with architectural art pieces and 1940s charm. Sure you had to look past the modern Disney store in the lobby, but hey, what are you going to do. The doors opened promptly and there was plenty of staff to guide you to your seats. Inside, the theater was smaller then I had expected but it was very charming and nice. Then I reached my seat.

I am large. The seats were not. Now I have come to accept the fact that seats made for the general public are not made to accommodate people of my girth. The seats at the New Amsterdam theater were TINY! I am sure they are comfortable for the very young, or the anorexic, but they were not designed for adults. As I scanned the people who were already seated I saw that my concern was shared by many of the other people. Resigned to the fact that I would probably not be very comfortable I squeezed myself in. It was a tight fit but not horrible as long as I could extend my right foot. Sadly, once the seat to my right was filled, I could no longer extend my foot and my discomfort increased exponentially. My discomfort reached the point that I could no longer sit down. I left my seat and sought out an usher to see if something could be done.

I hailed our usher (usherette??). She was very understanding and sped off to see if something could be done. Moments later, the head usher came by and told me that they would sit me in the free standing chair section. As I approached, I saw that there were several elderly people in the area, two handicapped persons and a young girl in a cast. I was pleased to see that the theater had an area for these situations. Unfortunately, that area was full. Without blinking an eye, the head Usher sped off. While I awaited his return, my usher made small talk and assured me that everything was all right. A short while later, the manager of the theater arrived and escorted me to the back of the orchestra area where I was given a chair and a little booster cushion to improve my sight line. I was now in a choice seat and not once did I have to make a fuss. My original usher left while assuring me he would tell Deb where I was sitting. This kind of customer service is almost unheard of these days. I would like to thank and congratulate the entire New Amsterdam Theater staff for a job well done! Now on to the play.

I must confess that the story of the Lion King held no real appeal to me. I have not seen the movie to this day. Still, I have heard nothing but rave reviews so I assumed that I could make it through the play. The production starts with a parade of animals on to the stage. They came from both sides and the audience. Right at this point, at the opening of the play, I knew I was in for something special. Each animal was an interesting amalgamation of actor, costume and puppet. The expressions of movement that this blend of techniques provided had an intense and pleasurable impact on the audience. As I gazed around, I saw expressions of awe and wonder throughout the theater. The most amazing sight to me were the giraffes. The people in these costumes were amazing. First, they were on stilts. Not just on their legs, but on their hands as well. Here they were crawling around on stilts. And on to of their heads was a tall cone that formed the giraffes neck and head. Amazing!

Next came the introduction of the main characters and with it, another powerful image. The set changes were placed in a spiral on circular disks. This had the effect of scenes spiraling out of the floor and into space. While the sets moved into place the actors would run around to take their places. Meanwhile, background people would have puppets on the end of tall flexible poles. The swinging motion of these poles gave the bird puppets the illusion of flight.

Throughout the play, mood adjustments were achieved by different curtains. Each curtain was transparent to some degree and of a color that fit the mood. Also on the curtains were cutouts or designs that fit the scene perfectly and added a great depth and dimension to the play. And during the whole play, was the music. The music was crisp and powerful and within the intimate confines of the small theater was just perfect. What I found interesting was that the chorus also played the extra animals in the various scenes. When they were not on the stage, they were under it in a pit that had an opening in the front. From there they would sing and their sound was amplified through the theater.

I am not an expert on plays. I do not remember the names of the various actors. What I do and will continue to remember is the exemplary job they did. The show has been running for some time so I expected everyone to know their roles. What I did not expect was that the players would still have the kind of enthusiasm they showed after all this time. I will not go into any more details about the play. My reasons are two-fold. First, I don't want to ruin anything for any of you who would see the play. There are some specific scenes that are so breathtaking, they should be experienced only first hand. Second, although I am seldom at a loss for words, I am modest enough to know when my meager description of details could not possibly do the Lion King justice. I will tell you that if you have any love for theater at all, or if you are interested in this play at any level: SEE IT! I am going to see it again, even if I have to wait a year.