For years, I have dreamed of seeing the musical production of Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. It has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Having a friend in the cast just made the desire to see it that much stronger! So, after wishing upon perhaps a thousand stars, my oldest son decided he would make that dream come true. As a combined Christmas and birthday gift to me, he bought two tickets to see the production at the Minskoff Theater in New York City! I was finally 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 our Broadway adventure. It was the perfect birthday gift for him, as he is just as much a theater buff as my oldest. This was shaping up to potentially be the “best day ever” for this mom!
Heading To New York City
The three of us took off very early from home to catch the train into the City. We arrived early enough to enjoy some of 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. We enjoyed a great chat while walking the city and sipping on Starbucks coffee. Over the years, the boys have enjoyed listening to Matt share stories of living in the city and performing on the New York stage.
The Minskoff Theater
We made our way around the New York City block, drinks in hand, and found our stop at The Minskoff Theater. The theater 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 entrance is located. This corridor was truly well-thought out ~ covered, dry and spacious, protecting guests from all the potential elements.
Here’s a little history for you ~
The Minskoff opened its doors in 1973 (great year to be “born,” by the way). It underwent refurbishment in the 1990s so that it could accommodate its current production. Disney’s 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 and reentered the line once again. Next, we rode the giant escalator in front of us that leads to the main lobby.
NOTE: While on the escalator, be sure to turn around once you are half way. There is a giant Mufasa mask mounted on the wall to “watch your back” or “thank you” on your way out. It’s a beautiful piece of art and an iconic photo to capture! Those eyes are captivating!
Take a Look Around
Once we reached the top, we found ourselves in a 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 from the musical scattered throughout.
Finding Our Seats
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. While the New Amsterdam Theater (built in the early 1900s and where hubby and I saw Aladdin in early 2016) is exquisitely ornate, there is actually little ornamental design on the walls of the Minskoff. I don’t believe there was even any no true balcony seating in the theater.
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 that simplicity 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.
The boys and I also noted that the border, or framing, of the stage is subtly representative of the African landscape. The stairs, which we were able to view because of the proximity of our seats, are actually designed to look like rocks.
As The Curtain Rises…
The production starts out bold and captivating. Rafiki grabs your attention right from the onset. The ensemble fills the theater aisles as they make their way to the stage as a collective, musical herd of African wildlife. 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 making their way down the aisles are part of what motivates them in their individual performances.
Disney’s The Lion King Production
The entire production, from beginning to end, was mesmerizing. I loved Rafiki (played by Tshidi Manye), who is fantastically hilarious and wise. Zazu (played by Cameron Pow) left us 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. 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). Karie 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. It is all about finding one’s self in the midst of life’s struggles and realizing whom we are meant to be in this circle of life. In keeping with the movie, the circle acts as the thematic element of the entire production. It emphasizes 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 whom 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.
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. Scar manipulates his own mechanics and the gazelle and lioness are hand-powered across the stage. It was both breath-taking and mind-blowing. Seeing how the engineers and artists created an entire world and brought all of these moving “creatures” to life fascinated my 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. I was truly in awe at the expertise demonstrated on that stage.
I am enamored 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 during the performance. I tried very hard to keep the toe tapping and tears to a minimum out of respect for those sitting nearby.
I have to admit, though, that I was actually singing the songs for days after the show…..and (sigh)…oh, great. Now I’m singing them again (“Hakuna Matata,” my friends ~ you know you’re singing it now, too!).
BONUS ~ Matt Was Performing!!
As an added plus, my friend, Matt, was IN this particular performance we saw!! 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, 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. He impressed me tremendously with his ability to transition so quickly and so effortlessly in between the various tracks. 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 enjoyed 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 has a number that corresponds to the person using it. 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 taken backstage…in order to keep the magic alive)
As we walked onstage, Matt showed us from where Pride Rock spirals upward. He also showed us 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. 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. 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. This is where each cast member has his/her own cubby, section of hanged costumes and hooks for masks. Matt showed us his and it again made me swell with pride.
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. 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 boasting the signatures of celebrities who have visited the production. We saw the John Hancocks of political figures, various professional athletes and other well-known actors. It must be so motivating 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. Oh, don’t worry ~ I got Matt’s, too!!
Closing This Particular Loop
Our visit was coming to an end. Matt had an appointment and we had to catch the train home. The entire day was a dream come true for me. The boys loved the performance. In fact, they are now more infatuated with Broadway and theater 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. Matt had spoken to me about his particular journey and how he views everyone he meets. In one way, shape or fashion, he sees each person 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 all interconnect and how we are all 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 functions and continues.
Heading To the City For a Show?
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. 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 (at the time 11) to the theater in NYC. That particular day, there was a tremendously high concentration of peanut smell wafting through. There were numerous children eating snacks containing some form of nuts. Instead of watching the production, we would have likely spent the afternoon in the emergency room.
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!