Anyone see The Lion King when it was still in its prime?

Adair Haywind
Featured Actor
I just saw the show for the first time at the Kennedy Center last week and thought it was cute, but hardly worthy of the "Landmark Musical Event" tagline. The acting and singing was fine for the most part (except for the guy playing Timon) but the direction for some scenes was very poor (notably during "Chow Down" when the hyenas just stand there and sing while the kids watch). I was curious if anyone saw the show around the time it opened when it was still young and fresh. Was it remarkable then? Did you really believe it earned the Tony for Best Musical?
rosscoe(au) Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I think the first ten minutes is stunning, but from than on the show just kinda's starts and stops, no flow. It had nothing to do with being young and fresh, those problems have been there from the start.
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Auggie27 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I saw it the second week in NY, on a Sunday night (the only seats you could get). The audience was restless and then rapturous. Everything was cheered. The admittedly stunning opening number was hard to fully appreciate because its reception was so predetermined, a show stopper in a show that hadn't quite begun. And then, almost everything after it didn't pale, certainly, but never quite achieved that level. I enjoyed the artistry, but found it long and again, the audience seemed determined to be overwhelmed and I couldn't quite connect. Full disclosure: I was with a young child on a school night. I might've had a different response at a matinee. I never discount the performance, the atmosphere in a theater, and whether I'm fully relaxed (taking children is a separate discussion, but it certain impact experiencing the Disney shows.)
"I'm a comedian, but in my spare time, things bother me." Garry Shandling
Broadway Legend
"Chow Down" is still in the show? I thought Julie cut that back in 2010 when she decided that audiences could no longer handle a two and a half hour show. Did they put it back or am I just misremembering?
TheGingerBreadMan Profile Photo
Broadway Star
When I saw the tour in August 2013, Chow Down was there.
bwayphreak234 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I saw the tour back in November 2013. Chow Down was still in. The opening number was amazing (as always), the rest of the evening was a colossal bore.
"There’s nothing quite like the power and the passion of Broadway music. "
Adair Haywind
Featured Actor
"Chow Down" is still there. The only full number that was cut was "The Morning Report". This having been my first time seeing the show, I'm not sure what other lines and lyrics were omitted.
gleek4114 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I saw it last May. As others have said the opening was terrific. The rest was ok but the first 30 minutes of act 2 almost put me to sleep. Overall it was a pretty good show. But with that being said I think it has always been overrated and overhyped. I had heard amazing things about it but it just did not exceed expectations. I had seen the Non Equity Beauty and The Beast tour and in my opinion it blew the Lion King out of the water.

Updated On: 8/9/14 at 12:56 PM
Famebroadway2 Profile Photo
Broadway Star

When i was in college I saw it on a weeknight during the 1st week of previews at the New Amsterdam. I walked up the box office and got a seat in the balcony (it was cheap, around $25-$27 IIRC).
For me it was one of those once in a lifetime theater experiences watching that performance. It was remarkable, breathtaking, and captivating from start to finish. A performance I will NEVER forget!
I have not been back to see it again because I am positive it won't ever live up to my 1st experience with the show.
mjohnson2 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
I've seen it twice in the New Amsterdam and once in the Minskoff. The New Amsterdam theatre just lent itself towards the material a lot better because it is so much grander of a theatre, but I never found a single moment in the show impressive, and the opening number a cluttered mess. I saw it two more times to reassess my opinion because the first time I saw it I was very young, and the third time was in a different theatre and I was older still.
Anything regarding shows stated by this account is an attempt to convey opinion and not fact.
Someone in a Tree2 Profile Photo
Someone in a Tree2
Broadway Legend
I saw the show it's 1st year on Broadway and once on the West End around 2005. Both times the opening was gorgeous, yet for me the show approached that high again several more times in each evening-- with the introduction of Nala and the lionesses in the grasslands, with the Act I climax, in the opening of Act II as the waters dry up, and in the forming of Mustafa's face in the stars.

HOWEVER-- did the show merit it's Tony for Best Musical that year? HELL no, RAGTIME should have won that year! However thrilling the physical world of The Lion King, it doesn't contribute one whit to great theater literature. RAGTIME, on the other hand, has perhaps the best book and score written for Broadway in the last 2 decades.
I saw it back in early 99. It was the last show on my 7 day trip [a show a night], and I fell asleep during it. However, Beauty & The Beast was on the first night and it was magically.
elpielovesblackfish2 Profile Photo
Chorus Member
@Someone in Tree2 I feel the exact same way about lion king.
best12bars Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Full disclosure. I got house seats from the producer a week before the Tonys. I called his office the day of a performance, and they said, "Do you want to go now, today? I'll have them waiting for you at the box office."

Tickets were extremely hard to come by, let alone house seats.

But suddenly, there I was, eighth row center, with little more than two hours' notice.

This was the first show in the revamped New Amsterdam, so part of the magic started the moment I hit the entrance. I was swept away before the lights went down. Then, as everyone has said, the Circle of Life was an unbelievable thrill. And from my vantage point with everything surrounding me, it was absolutely perfect.

Unlike others, I didn't think the show sagged after the first ten minutes. Perhaps I was caught up in the whole special experience. I actually found myself in tears, unable to speak, when the lights came up for intermission. I hadn't seen that much imagination (direction, lighting, choreography, orchestration, costumes, sets) on a Broadway stage in years, if ever. It was astounding storytelling.

Act II started, and Heather Headley came out and sang her solo. Then there was the brief combat scene where the grownup Simba and Nala fight each other because they don't recognize each other yet.

Suddenly, Heather fell to the floor. She didn't get up. She clutched her ankle and everything froze.

The curtain came down and the lights came up. We all sat there, realizing she was injured. Then five minutes went by. We figured they were going to go on with an understudy. Then ten minutes. Then fifteen minutes. The audience was getting restless.

The stage manager came out on stage in front of the curtain. "We have an unusual situation," he began awkwardly.

It turns out that Heather was taken to the hospital for x-rays, but she was all right, at least, and hopefully hadn't broken her ankle. It was more precautionary than anything else, he said. But Heather's first understudy was on vacation and out of the state. Heather's second understudy had called in sick. So Nala had NO understudies ready to go on. Remember, the show had just opened a few weeks earlier.

The stage manager told us that a chorus girl was willing to continue with the role, but she would have to hold a script and they would be prompting her with some blocking direction. The audience applauded a bit. At least we would see the rest of the play, and at least Heather Headley would recover.

I have to tell you that this chorus girl was fantastic. She sang "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and the audience went crazy. Her voice was terrific and so was her acting. At the end of the show, she got a huge ovation (since the audience was already on its feet).

So, yes, I loved The Lion King in its prime. That performance, for many reasons, remains one of my very favorite experiences on Broadway.

"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
blocked: logan2, Diamonds3
Updated On: 8/9/14 at 05:28 PM
Mattbrain Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Well maybe it's the fact that I've seen it twice, once when I was 10 and once in high school but I could not disagree more with the consensus that the only good part is the opening. I still think it's a stunning bit of stagecraft and a beautiful show overall.

That's right, you just heard a civilized response out of me.
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Claudia Draper
If the lion king is boring and uninspiring... What do you consider is worthy of praise. I saw it in previews, after it open. And when it moved to minskoff. It is amazing artistry that is remarkable theater. People be crazy...
Someone in a Tree2 Profile Photo
Someone in a Tree2
Broadway Legend
Namo, it sounds like you had one of those perfect nights in the theater that we all wait and hope for but seldom get. You hit the jackpot that night.

In the cold light of day, don't you see that your enjoyment that night isn't the same thing as saying The Lion King deserved its Best Musical Tony? Even YOU say "I hadn't seen that much imagination (direction, lighting, choreography, orchestration, costumes, sets) on a Broadway stage in years." What you DON'T say is "that BOOK and SCORE show more imagination than Broadway has seen in years." I realize that a great show is more than the sum of its written parts, so I'm curious as to where you come down on the Tony question vs RAGTIME?
Broadway Star
I saw it during its first week after opening. I loved it and went back two more times.
ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
Esther2 Profile Photo
best12bars, I got my tickets shortly after it opened much the same way you got yours - through a random phone call to a friend. We were sitting in the 3rd row center of the front mezz, a perfect view.

My reaction to the show is also much the same as yours. I remember my hand going to my throat during the wildebeest stampede. I was totally caught up in the sweep of the show.

I always tell people who ask if they should see it that it's a stunning evening of pure theatricality ... despite the fact that it's The Lion King.
Mr Roxy Profile Photo
Mr Roxy
Broadway Legend
Saw it late in previews @ the New Amsterdam

Still think Ragtime should have one the Tony but that's life
Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth - Lillian Hellman
best12bars Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
First of all, Someone In a Tree2, I'm best12bars, not Namo.

I actually feel very qualified to answer your question, since I saw Ragtime 4 times in Los Angeles with a different cast (except for Brian Stokes Mitchell and Judy Kaye, who were both in the L.A. Premiere cast) before the show opened on Broadway a few months later. I saw Lion King in NY right after that, as well as Ragtime with the NY cast.

It's difficult to judge them because they were and are both worthy of the award. I don't agree with you that Best Musical is a writers award, primarily. That's why they have writers awards for Best Book and Best Music and Lyrics. If Best Musical were a writers award, then they should do away with those other categories. They're redundant.

To me, it's very similar to Best Picture at the Oscars, and we all know that the Best Picture winner doesn't always get a Best Screenplay award (and sometimes, it isn't even nominated). I believe this is an overall production award, which is why it goes to the producers. It's the culmination of everything to do with a particular production on Broadway. Yes, that includes the writing, but it also includes everything else.

I'm not sure how many were privileged enough to see the Los Angeles premiere cast of Ragtime, but it was better than the OBC, which opened about 4 months after that. They had better chemistry at the Shubert Theatre in L.A. Things gelled better. In NY, the show felt swallowed up in that huge house, and the cast was out of balance, primarily because of Audra McDonald, who, in my opinion, was wrong for the role, but also outshone her leading man and most everyone else on stage. It was like she was in another musical. I was kind of appalled when she won the Tony. La Chanze, who played the role in L.A. WAS Sarah. You believed her in that part. Audra was grand opera playing street urchin. It threw the balance of the three main stories off, and Brian Stokes Mitchell, who had been so brilliant in the Los Angeles production, seemed to take a backseat to Audra whenever the two were on stage. I wish Frank Gilatti would have straitened that out in rehearsals. It was nothing short of "upstaging."

There is no question in my mind that Ragtime is a better written show. It deserved the writing awards. And Ragtime had fantastic, first-rate production values across the board: sets, lighting, costumes, choreography, direction (other than directing the actors' acting), but none of it was particularly new or different. Just really, really good.

Lion King was new, fresh, original, and brilliant. It's a show that shouldn't have worked at all on stage. But Julie Taymor's creative vision elevated the modern Broadway musical to new heights. It wasn't just her either. I remember that the original main choral voices weren't part of Actors Equity (unusual on Broadway) because they had talents that couldn't be found among the union membership (that's a way around hiring union, by the way). They were African singers, with a unique way of projecting their voices and singing. Just as soon as the first voices were heard at the very beginning, I remember thinking, "What the hell is this?!?" Something new. And I was instantly transported. I also remember the orchestra spilling out of the pit and into the boxes on either side of the stage, with drums and percussion going beyond the traditional pit orchestra in every sense of the term.

So, my opinion? Lion King deserved Best Musical (barely) over Ragtime, even with a fairly ordinary book and score. There was nothing else ordinary about it.

Ragtime was extremely good and could easily have won in any year, let alone that year. Lion King was something we had never seen before (at least in a mainstream Broadway musical).

Let's face it, the 1997-98 season was an embarrassment of riches. We should be so lucky as to have two such monumental achievements competing together again on Broadway.

"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
blocked: logan2, Diamonds3
Updated On: 8/10/14 at 07:21 AM
The Glenbuck Laird Profile Photo
The Glenbuck Laird
What a lovely post
I also feel that Ragtime is the better show. I still don't understand why it was not a monster hit when it opened. It had everything. I have heard that it was ridiculously expensive to run, which would not have mattered if it was selling out. I have always assumed the revival, which I also loved, was a victim of bad timing...the bottom of the economy, a revival with a cast of virtual unknowns, very little buildup.

As for Lion King, I have only seen it twice. (In contrast, In less time I have seen Wicked 6 times, Mamma Mia 3 times, Kinky Boots 3 times, Next to Normal 3 times).

The first time, I was with my sons who were probably 4 and 5, and the looks on their faces alone, made the night spec. So that is part of it...the ultimate show for kids. The second time, they were probably 12 and 13 and were too cool for a stupid musical about lions, so that may have influenced my reaction; but I definitely.was bored the second time.

That is not to say that there are not great things in the show, all due to Julie Taymor. The opening number can't help but induce goose bumps. But, the cinematic view of the lion cubs crossing the plains was also magic, the stampede was incredible, the simplicity of the bids flying during intermission, Mufasa in the sky as already pointed out, the basic design concept always gave you something special to look at on stage. That much magic in one show almost never occurs. But, at least for me, gorgeous visual tableaux are not enough if a number of the book scenes are boring and the score -- which certainly includes more than its scare of terrific songs -- also included several klinkers.

Interestingly, you could say the same thing for Spider-Man...there were many visually arresting set pieces, but the book (at least when I saw it in its first incarnation) was painful and the score seemed terrible on first hearing (and there has not been a second), whereas, with the Lion King, they were good, not great.

In the final analysis, the stage magic and the beloved movie are the reasons for its success, and they are pretty compelling, even if I am not a big fan.

Updated On: 8/10/14 at 10:38 AM
haterobics Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I don't know if the OP's issue is truly about The Lion King, but the danger of setting expectations in advance of seeing a "landmark musical event" and then dissecting why it immediately isn't seeming to be that for you in real time. If you're evaluating, critiquing, and questioning the direction against your expectation, the thing you aren't doing is experiencing the show, letting it wash over you, and being taken into the story.

I used to do reviews (infrequently), and could still score free tickets to a lot of things now if I wanted to (but I don't), for that very reason. You can be outside of a show or inside of a show, and the former is always a lesser experience. I almost treat theater like meditation, when I notice something that I recognize as being outside of it, I try to go back in... and, personally, it has led to a richer theater experience for me.

Once I see a show a couple of times, then sure, I can start dissecting it, seeing how the pieces fit together, what I think works better than something else, but I don't think I could do that on first viewing even if I were familiar with the source material (then again, I wouldn't want to, so I can't really say if I could...)

Of course, I think being present is becoming a lost art anyway, with mobile phones and such adding a layer of distraction to everything, and people thinking they can be at dinner with someone and texting people who aren't there simultaneously. I doubt I can convince anyone they are having a lesser experience by doing any of these things, but having done both, I'm decidedly staying on one side of the equation.
Glittergrrl Profile Photo
I saw it twice when it first opened. First I saw it with some boyfriend and was so dazzled, I had to bring my little niece. That day with my niece is one of the best days we've shared. We still talk about it. Not only because of the show, it was a great day in the city. I digress... I thought the show was visually stunning. The Circle of Life opening was incredible. Some of the staging/costumes were innovative.. The way she staged the stampede was very cool. The only thing lacking was story. Maybe it's because I watched the film so many times, but the story was kind of boring. The production was impressive. I remember Jason Raize who later killed himself, I believe. He was a talented kid. That was very sad.
Very interesting. Super high expectation is so often a buzzkill. The number of times that I have been disappointed by ridiculously high expectations...stupid.

Ironically, in many cases, I was major disappointed...only to end up loving the show after seeing it again, with lessened expectation. I have also found that I definitely enjoy certain shows if I am already familiar with the score, because I do not always appreciate their excellence the first time, e.g., Company, A Little Night Music, Candide, Light in the Piazza, so I either have to wait until i have heard the score or adjust my expectation to reflect my personal deficiency.