It's been eleven years since Disney's The Lion King Musical came to Jacksonville and it's here again. We were thrilled to be invited to media night last night to see the show. It was so exciting to be there with members of the press and extremely excited members of the audience. People were clapping in anticipation for songs they were about to hear, they cheered for Rafiki as she began, "Circle of Life," they applauded as the doors opened and the massive beasts entered the theatre. We just went through this same excitement with the Jaguars winning, the city coming together to cheer for the same team - a light that only we in Jacksonville knew. And with only a few tickets left for each show, we're experiencing this here in Jax again two weeks later with The Lion King. The songs, the actors, the costumes, our childhood memories of seeing the movie for the first time - The Lion King and all things theatre, song, dance, and costume design, "Lives in Us," the next two week, Jacksonville, and it was amazing to be a part of an audience that was on FIRE for this show last night!
Having seen it here in Jax back in 2007, I was a bit anxious. Would it be as awe inspiring as when I first experienced it? The first time I saw it, I knew they were doing something with masks, puppeteers, and shadows. This form of Broadway had never been done to portray animals and I was curious to see how they put it together. But when the massive elephant walked past me in the isle, and there were birds swinging high above, and the gazelles were up in the side boxes, and the tall, human giraffes were heavily dragging their way across the stage I became overwhelmed with tears. How could humans create this? How could people sing so well, be so artistic in their design, actually become the huge, delicate, amazing animals of The Lion King?! As Mufasa and Sarabi climbed up pride rock and all the animals ended their song with the presentation of Simba and a theatre rumbling boom, my tears were flowing fast and I just couldn't believe what had been created.
Well, this show had the exact same effect. The tears came, the beauty, the power, the memory, the amazement, it was so great to experience it all again. And this time around it was neat to watch the actors closely and see how happy they were to show us what they could do. It was like they knew us, too, as just one group of the 90 million people that have seen the performance, many more than once, and they thought it was good to see us again. They wanted to share their show, their beautiful voices, and take us on the journey again.
Although many parts of the show are the same that we loved in 2007, The Lion King has bits and pieces of advanced technology, like the stars that come together into a hologram of Mufasa, as well as lines that have been updated with the times. Zazu references Twitter, and while caged by Scar sings, "Let it Go, Let it Go," to which Scar replies, "Not that song again," as any parent would.
It's hard to say who stole the show. The kid versions of Nala and Simba were fiesty and adorable in their roles. Mufasa's singing, costume, and love for his son were something we all related to. Scar was smooth, nasty, and in charge. The adult Simba and Nala were strong and their portrayal of, "The Circle of Life," was amazing to hear. Rafiki was with us the whole time with words we didn't know, but with body language and beautiful singing we understood and loved. Pumba, Timon, and the three hyenas, the lionesses and other ensembles were all simply perfect.
If something had to stand out above all the genius of the show, it had to be the singing and continuing of, "They Live in Us." The young Simba and his dad, and then later adult Simba and Rafiki reminded us that our ancestors live in us. That now, 11 years later, we have young kids, we will live in them, and that we need to share that we will always be in them. It also made me think that the Jaguars live in us, that we are all living together as part of Jax and our beautiful river city lives in us. The Lion King lives in us this week, Jacksonville, and I hope you have the chance to get some of the last few tickets to go see it!
Performances are now through Sunday, February 11th at the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $85 - $169. You can purchase tickets, here.
Thank you to FSCJ Artist Series for bringing this show to Jacksonville and for working for almost two years to promote the show. Thank you also for providing the media passes.
This blog is dedicated to Lindsay Van-Zandt of Jacksonville who lost her battle to Lukemia this week at age 35. Long part of the Jax theatre community, and part of the Lynard Skynard family, you will always live in us.