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Not Quite There

‘The Lion King’—‘a story of humans and humanity’

By: -Columnist
/ 05:48 AM May 13, 2018

At “The Lion King” on Sunday, my daughter Gia commented, “Mom, there’s three generations of us here.”

Vergel gave his ticket to Gia when he realized it was a matinee show, and he had invited his children and grandchildren for swimming and lunch at the club. Gia thus made the middle generation. It felt like an advance Mother’s Day celebration—nice lunch and amazing show on me, and fine dining after on my only daughter.

It was not exactly all fun, until it all happened. It was the day of the Iglesia ni Cristo’s antipoverty march on Roxas Boulevard, compelling the closing of almost all roads to it—Taft, Burgos. Good thing Ticketworld had kept warning us since the day before so we could plan an alternate route to Solaire.

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Twice the fun

We got there at 11:30, giving ourselves plenty of time for lunch. First granddaughter Rory, now on her second year in medical school, had already seen the play with her friends, but came for the lunch. She observed, “This South African production put their money on costumes, masks and puppetry!”

Maita, Rory’s younger sister and Gia’s youngest child, now on her second year in Architecture, would be coming from UST to join us for both lunch and show. In preschool Montessori, Maita had played Rafiki, a Mandrill monkey, a sort of spiritual healer in tribal Africa, and also narrator.

My youngest granddaughter, Mona, herself 10, who had been staying with Vergel and me since Friday afternoon, knew the story, read the book, and saw the animated movie. She knew all the characters by name. Mona enjoys books and movies, more so when she already knows the outcome. I knew I’d be watching her as much as the show itself. I’d had twice the fun!

The opening scene, “Circle of Life,” took our breath away. The African drums beat eerily as the parade of animals, as imaginatively recreated for the stage by a genius of a designer, nearly brushed against the audience as they made their way to the stage. All the theatrical effects had Mona wide-eyed with wonder, and Zazu, the hornbill, and the two outcasts—hedgehog and meerkat—made all of us laugh! I loved all the characters—Rafiki, Scar, everyone!

Geniuses

As I watched, I kept thinking of the geniuses behind the scenes, in particular the puppetry, the geniuses who were able to bring the African spirit on stage by the imaginative use of lights, the African textures, the language, the music.

I haven’t seen portrayals more demanding of actors. They had to do more than just act and sing; they had to work the puppet animals they are themselves portraying, and move with them, so that puppeteer and puppet give a synchronized performance. I was so intrigued I didn’t blink splurging P800 for a program.

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Scenic designer Richard Hudson brought Africa onto the stage. Jamaican choreographer Garth Fagan recreated the animal movements in dance. American Donald Holder captured the intense light of the savannah. Music and lyrics were a harmonious combination of Elton John and Tim Rice’s gifts, and South African choral songs. Three of the five original songs had been nominated for Academy awards, and one, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” won.

Set designer Julie Taymor put Africa on the stage with its textures, patterns and sounds. According to the program, “She wanted the actors, the singers, and the dancers never… hidden by their costumes. The mechanics would always be visible. She labeled the intended effect ‘the double event,’ wanting the audience to recognize the animals but never lose sight of the fact the story is really about humans and humanity.”

All too familiar

“The Lion King,” if need be generally told, is about a good, powerful and compassionate king, Mufasa—from the director’s express perspective, “an extremely balanced and straightforward personality, in contrast to his brother, Scar, who covets his position and schemes to do away with Mufasa and his rightful heir, Simba. Scar allies himself with evil hyenas and, in such bad company, misrules the kingdom. Soon the animals go hungry, and all the kingdom becomes unhappy.”

The story simply sounds all too familiar for comfort, especially with the portrayal of Scar as a character “misshapen psychologically,” as directed, and made to look it with makeup and a mask—“off-kilter, prickly and dangerous.” When, in the end, the young, legitimate heir to the throne comes back and retakes the kingdom, the benevolent Mufasa reign is reestablished.

In a perfect world, a change of leadership is all it takes. Alas, in the real world, a leadership is deserved. But “The Lion King” makes me rethink my perspective. The lions and the kingdom suffer not because they are themselves bad, but because of one evil lion, Scar, and equally evil hyena conspirators and cohorts. Once Scar is no more, his hyenas get their just desserts, too.

Nobody, in fact, blames the animals in the kingdom for what has happened. After all, bad things do happen to good people, too. But, in the end, fairy tale or no fairy tale, good triumphs over evil.

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