Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Disney’s The Lion King: God Help Us

Before you doubt that your correspondent suffers so you don’t have to, remember this: I went to see Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.  I am still recovering, and any small votive lit for my complete recuperation is deeply appreciated.

The Lion King makes for a completely wretched evening of theater.  One arrives at the Minskoff Theater on West 45 prior to curtain – only to have all bags and some pockets checked by security thugs right out of central casting.  At $155 for Mezzanine seating, one can only imagine that the Minskoff people are expecting the better class of terrorist. 

Patrons are then herded like cattle by ushers more at home on the Old Chisholm Trail, who hector and insult customers already turning off cell phones a good 15 minutes before curtain.  (Not that the patrons on hand deserved better treatment; dressed as if for a hockey game and behaving much like people waiting on line in Costco, one wonders where they thought they were.)

And please never for a moment believe that the Minskoff is a theater … it is not.  It is an auditorium.  If you are interested in serious theater, you are in the wrong place, physically and aesthetically.  Vast and drafty, with practically no proscenium and, if I recall correctly, no orchestra pit, this is a space better suited for proletarian joys like rock concerts and revival meetings. 

Which, in all honesty, is pretty much what one gets with the now-congealing mess that is The Lion King.  To “bring to life” various jungle animals and rain forest locales, director Julie Taymor had Disney’s bottomless coffers at her disposal.  Sadly, all of Taymor’s directorial decisions were wrong.  First off, this adaptation of the Disney cartoon is completely devoid of actors.  Yes, there are performers onstage, but all wear body microphones since they can project neither speaking voice nor song.  (One wonders why they bother … there would be no difference if the poor saps on stage merely moved their lips to a recording.)  Worse still, the actors are all heavily burdened with pounds of puppetry to simulate animal life – it is impossible to connect with any of them in any human way.  Imagine wanting to be an actor and becoming, instead, a walking special effect.

The internal politics of The Lion King are also of special interest.  The entire enterprise is infused with a faux-African PC chic, as if the doings of jungle fauna represented a great cosmology of the universe.  The sole non-African accent on hand is that of Patrick R. Brown, who plays the villain Scar.  (Naturally.)  Imagine, if you would, a lisping Boris Karloff aping Quentin Crisp and you get the idea.  No doubt oceans of self-loathing Upper West Siders nod in appreciation and abnegation; I merely shrugged in disbelief.

The book, by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, jumps (literally) all over the place.  I had a thought for many of the screaming children careening through the aisles, wondering how they would understand anything that was going on.  Then, I realized that was never the intention – the real plan was simply to overwhelm them with noise.

Noise, of course, is probably the best word to describe the score by Elton John and Tim Rice.  I cannot say if the score is consistently wretched throughout, but what I did hear sounded rather like subway drummers pounding on plastic paint cans.  After sitting through such first act numbers as Chow Down, Be Prepared and I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, the audience was treated to the big first act curtain number, Hakuna Matata.  I think Hakuna Matata was probably Ugandan for “please be sure to visit our gift shop,” but I never waited to find out.  As the curtain fell, I fled for the nearest exit.  The second act of The Lion King will forever remain a mystery to your correspondent.

Clearly we were not the only sufferers.  Several ushers congratulated us on our sound judgment as we made for the doors, hurrying away from hoards of singing lions, dancing chimps, wailing children and suffering parents.

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