For years, I have dreamed of going to New York City to see Disney’s musical production of The Lion King. It has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and knowing that I had a friend in the cast just made the desire to see it even stronger! After wishing upon a thousand stars or more, my oldest son made that dream come true this April and, as a combined Christmas and birthday gift to me, he bought the two of us tickets to see the production at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway! I was going to see The Lion King!!!
To sweeten the deal, within one week of the show, I was able to find a seat open one row in front of us so that my 14 year old son could join us on our Broadway adventure. It was the perfect birthday gift for him, as he is just as much a theater buff as my oldest. His tagging along simply added to this mom’s dream of spending the “best day ever” with two of her three boys (I really did miss the little guy, though).
So, the three of us took off very early from home to catch the train into New York City around mid April. We arrived early enough to walk the area, enjoy the sights and, of course, visit the M&M store. About an hour before the show, we caught up with my Broadway friend, Matt Morgan, whom I had the chance to interview last month. We enjoyed a great chat while walking the city and sipping on Starbucks coffee. The boys have enjoyed meeting up with Matt and listening to him share stories of living in the city and performing on Broadway.
The Minskoff Theater
We made our way around the block, drinks in hand, and found our stop at The Minskoff Theater, which sits right in the middle of Times Square. We entered through one of the two side street openings that lead to a corridor where the theater entrance is located. This corridor was well-thought out ~ covered, dry and spacious, keeping guests protected from the elements.
Here’s a little history for you ~ The Minskoff opened its doors in 1973 (great year to be “born,” by the way) with a refurbishment in the 1990s to accommodate its current production. That current production, The Lion King, is now quickly approaching its 20th year on Broadway! As if I didn’t feel old already…
Just prior to the doors opening, we said “see you later” to Matt and found ourselves a spot in line. At the appropriate time, we walked through glass doors, had our bags checked, showed our tickets, took a detour to see if we could obtain our Disney Visa Card promotion gifts (a lanyard , pin and a ticket for a complimentary beverage) and had to reenter the line to show our tickets. The next step was to ride the giant escalator in front of us up to the main lobby.
NOTE: While on the escalator, be sure to turn around once you are half way up. There is a giant Mufasa mask mounted on the wall, there to “watch your back” or “thank you” on your way out. It’s certainly a beautiful piece of art and an iconic photo to capture! Those eyes!
Once we reached the top of the escalator (or the top of the stairs, if you are so inclined to walk them), we found ourselves entering the huge, vast lobby. The lobby front boasts an expansive, wall to wall glass window and has a spectacular and panoramic view of Times Square. You simply have to go up to the window and take a peek and a picture. It’s a phenomenal view. Also located in the lobby is a surprisingly small gift shop and, around the corner (near the house doors), there is a snack bar. The boys and I also enjoyed taking a gander at the various displays of artifacts from the musical scattered throughout.
The time had come to find our seats. Entering the house is where I noticed the biggest difference between this theater and the ornate New Amsterdam Theater, which was built in the early 1900s (hubby and I saw Aladdin at the New Amsterdam in early 2016). There is actually little ornamental design on the walls of the Minskoff and I don’t believe there was any no true balcony seating. The color scheme and design are simple…basic lines in black, red and white. It wasn’t until after the performance that I realized how much that simplicity actually allowed for the colors and creativity on stage to stand out stronger. It was like the prologue to the production…setting the tone and pushing our attention to the stage, acting as a precursor to the colors that are prominent in the costumes and scenery we were about to see. The boys and I also noted that the border, or framing, of the stage is subtly representative of the African landscape and the stairs, which we were able to view because of the proximity of our seats to the stage, are designed to look like rocks.
As The Curtain Rises…
The production starts out bold and captivating. Rafiki grabs your attention right from the onset and the ensemble fills the theater aisles as they make their way to the stage as a collective, musical herd of African wildlife. I could not help, but smile from ear to ear and in awe, knowing that we were leaving the city and entering the savanna for a period of time. The opening number was empowering, inspiring and deeply effective. This was going to be an amazing experience…and the show was just beginning!
This was where I remembered something my friend, Matt, shared with me during my interview with him in March. He had commented on how the expressions and emotions on the faces they pass in the audience while they (the cast) make their way down the aisles are part of what motivates them in their performance.
The entire production, from beginning to end, was mesmerizing. I loved Rafiki (played by Tshidi Manye), who is fantastically hilarious and wise and Zazu (played by Cameron Pow) left me and the boys in stitches! His ad-lib and pithy anachronistic comments (“Let It Go!”), along with the occasional breaking of the fourth wall, were flawless. Scar (brilliantly executed by Stephen Carlile) is dazzlingly evil and dripping with evident jealousy and the actors taking on the younger versions of Simba and Nala (portrayed respectively by Joshua Dubose and Nala Hamilton) were playful and brilliant together. Another dynamic duo was Timon and Pumbaa (played by Jim Ferris and Ben Jeffrey this performance). It was as if I was watching the actors who portrayed them in the movie ~ they were that good! Of course, one cannot forget to mention the devious hyenas (Bonita Hamilton, James Brown-Orleans and Enrique Segura) and how they kept us mischievously entertained.
The role of Mufasa was played by an understudy this performance (Michael Alexander Henry), who did a fantastic and commanding job. He played the part with both tremendous authority and fatherly compassion. The young lady playing the adult Nala (Adrienne Walker) was exquisite on stage and had a gorgeous, rich voice. I enjoyed listening to her sing “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” along with her co-star. Simba, all grown up, was also played by an understudy that day (Joel Karie), who did a good job communicating that struggle between fear and responsibility as a young lion growing into his role as king of the Pridelands.
The Story-line and Beyond
The story-line of The Lion King is fantastic and familiar, the finding of one’s self in the midst of life’s struggles and coming to the realization of whom we are meant to be in this circle of life. In keeping with the movie version of the tale, the circle acts as the thematic element of the entire production ~ emphasizing the way life comes around and how we are all interconnected. From the sun rising on the stage at the onset of the production and the spiraling rise of Pride Rock to the way Simba becomes who he was meant to be and how life begins and ends and begins again ~ this profound theme is magnificently orchestrated and evident throughout the piece and beautiful to watch roll out on stage. Prior to the performance, I had watched a few of the educational videos on the production’s website to gain a little perspective, which just made the entire theme pop and come to life that much more for me. Even the mechanics of such animals as the gazelle or the stampede, move across the stage in circular motion to keep things consistent and fluent.
The costumes ~ hands down ~ were magnificent. The engineering behind them was exquisite. To be honest, this is what intrigued me the most about the performance. To watch Scar manipulate his own mechanics and to see the gazelle or lioness being hand-powered across the stage was breath-taking and mind-blowing. To see how the engineers and artists created an entire world and brought all of these moving “creatures” to life in this fashion even fascinated my own future engineers. To see the actors flawlessly maneuver their way around the stage with such fluid motions was beautiful. This was done with brilliance and creativity in ways my mind cannot fathom. I was truly in awe at the expertise we saw demonstrated on that stage.
I am enamoured with the songs in this production! Who isn’t? From the upbeat and playful “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” to the powerful and enigmatic “Circle of Life,” I found myself singing along as much as I could. I tried very diligently to keep the toe tapping and tears to a minimum during the performance out of respect for those strangers sitting to either side (I actually ended up taking that extra seat in the row ahead of the boys so that they could sit together ~ what a mom will do, right?) I have to admit that I was actually singing the songs for days after seeing the show…..and (sigh)..oh, great. Now I’m singing them again (“Hakuna Matata,” my friends ~ you know you’re singing it now, too!). Minus a few pitchy areas during solos in the beginning of the second act, the harmonies, when sung, were glorious and moving. They delightfully tickled the ears of this old music major.
BONUS ~ Matt was performing!!
As an added plus, my friend, Matt, was IN this particular performance!! He was in the ensemble that day and took on many roles throughout the production. At one point, he was even so close to my seat, he was able to spot me, smile and then continue on with his role without skipping a beat. I probably looked like a fool, as giddy as I was, watching him make his dreams come true up there. I was beyond impressed with his ability to transition so quickly and so effortlessly in between the various tracks for which he was responsible that day. I told him later that it was like watching my little brother up there on the stage (I can only imagine the pride his actual family back home feels!!)…..the pride in my heart was overflowing.
DOUBLE BONUS ~ Heading Backstage!!
After the production, the boys and I were treated to something very special. While face-painting and photo opportunities were filling the lobby to support Broadway Cares (a benefit to raise money for those battling AIDS), we made our way to the Stage Door where we met up with Matt for a quick tour backstage. The boys did all they could to contain their excitement (oh, who am I kidding – I swear I almost peed my pants!!).
We made our way to the elevator that took us to where Disney-Meets-Broadway magic happens. Here, as we saw at the Providence Performing Arts Center back in March, everything related to the performance was organized, neat and immediately ready to go for another production. Each prop is numbered according to the person who uses it and no one else touches that item. It’s amazing to see so many props and materials, yet everyone is able to maneuver around the stage like a beautifully choreographed number. We saw the antelope props, the wildebeest masks, the elephant costumes….all hanging on their rightful hooks and in their respected spaces. We even saw the wall both Simba and Scar walk along towards the end of the production and Matt shared with us how that scene plays out even behind the curtain.
(Sorry, no pictures can be snapped backstage…this is purposely left to the imagination in order to keep the magic alive)
As we walked onstage, Matt showed us from where Pride Rock spirals upward and where the savanna rises from the floor on an elevator from beneath the stage. At that moment, I was in my glory…..I was actually standing on a Broadway stage….and it brought me back to high school once again. I miss acting ~ I miss performing. Then reality hit and I realized that this was probably the only way this was ever going to happen for me .
I needed a moment…(Thanks for making me smile, Matt)
As noted previously, the space in the wings is limited, so the boys and I were very curious to find out where and how costume changes occur. Matt took us to two “bunkers,” one for males and one for females, where each cast member has his/her own cubby, section of hanged costumes and hooks where masks are hung. Matt showed us his and it again made me swell with pride to know my dear friend is living his dream. He also reminded us that there is a small city back there at all times prepping each item for the next scene so that nobody has to worry or wonder where anything is. According to the website, there are approximately 114 people prepping for each of the eight performances a week.
Among the unique and intriguing things we saw backstage were the boards that boasted the signatures of celebrities who have visited the Minskoff to see The Lion King. We saw the John Hancocks of political figures, various professional athletes and other well-known actors. It must be such a motivating factor for each of the cast to see those names every time they walk on that stage. It certainly made me stop and smile. Of course, I smiled even more when we had opportunity to meet a few of the cast!! We met two of the “hyenas,” who were very gracious to sign autographs for us (don’t worry ~ I got Matt’s, too!!).
Closing This Particular Loop
Our visit was coming to an end. Matt had an appointment to pick up the puppy for which he was sitting and we had to catch the train home. All in all, seeing this performance was a culmination of so many dreams come true for me and I’m even swelled with pride to know that it meant that much to my son to see that dream become a reality for his mom. The boys loved the performance and are now infatuated with Broadway and theater more than they had been prior to seeing this. We literally spent days talking about the things we saw, experienced and enjoyed.
Before we left, I could not help but think back to the conversation I had with Matt in March during our interview together and see how it related to the production. Matt had spoken to me about his particular journey and how he sees everyone he meets, in one way shape or fashion, as a part of whom he has become. ~ much like Rafiki, Mufasa, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa and even Scar to Simba. He spoke about how our stories are interconnected and how we each have a path to take in realizing whom we are meant to be. The Lion King story brings that sentiment to life and light. It’s a beloved tale of fear, struggle, realization and responsibility told in a very original way in order to communicate how the circle of life continues.
If you are making your way to New York City and are looking to see a fantastic and amazing Broadway production ~ keep The Lion King high on your list. It was a spectacular performance and there is a reason it won six Tony awards in 1998 ( among various other awards throughout the years)!
Keep making memorable footprints, my friends.
FOOD ALLERGY NOTE: Based on this particular experience, I would not be comfortable bringing our youngest to the theater in NYC. That particular day, there was a tremendously high concentration of peanut smell wafting through and many children were eating snacks containing some form of nuts. Instead of watching the production, we would have likely spent the afternoon in the emergency room. I’m determined to figure out how to do this, however, because I want our youngest to experience the joy of watching a live Broadway production.
If you have had success in bringing someone with food allergies (including an airborne / contact component) to a Broadway production, please tell me how!!! I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
FYI and EXTRAS!!
- For tickets to see the Lion King: www.lionking.com/tickets
- To learn more about The Lion King production and how it came to be, visit: www.lionking.com/education
- Be sure to read my reviews of Aladdin and Newsies, too!