Monday, June 13, 2011

Can you feel the love tonight?

Richard’s eldest sister, Margaret, and her daughter, Jerica, are staying with us for a few days. It’s wonderful to be able to spend some time with family and we always cherish the opportunity for Ryan to bond with his relatives. They arrived on Sunday evening and, after dinner, we all went to see The Lion King (the musical) at Marina Bay Sands.

Richard and I watched The Lion King in Sydney many years ago and we enjoyed it tremendously. Actually, we hadn't planned to watch it - my mum bought the tickets for us as a gift. I was a little sceptical at first, wondering whether it would be a tacky children’s show but watching it, I was very impressed. The show was sophisticated and respectful of adult sensibilities, and sufficiently charming and accessible to the imagination of children. Richard and I sat up in the circle seats and, from that distance, the silhouette of giraffes strutting across the Serengeti plains against the backdrop of a glowing sunset was simply jaw-dropping. The stunning imagery was spectacularly evocative and the pulsing African rhythms made it burst into life. It was easy to forget that the prowling leopards, leaping antelopes and swooping birds were actually people in costume and makeup. The music, crafted by Elton John and Tim Rice, certainly didn’t disappoint. The songs were enchanting and soul-stirring and masterfully delivered by both actor and orchestra. We left the theatre skipping along and humming "Hakuna Matata".

When the musical came to Singapore, again, we did not make plans to watch it so it was a happy excuse to indulge ourselves when Margaret and Jerica came to visit. We bought the tickets just a few hours before the show, and in complete contrast to last time, we ended up two rows from the stage, in the side block (house left/stage right). This turned out to be the better side, as whenever an actor stood at the side of the stage to deliver his/her lines, more often than not, this was the side he/she stood. The sets were as majestic as I remembered, although we were too close to the stage to fully appreciate the beauty of the whole. Happily, this was balanced by the privilege of getting up close and personal with the actors. In Sydney, up in the circle, we couldn’t see their facial expressions. There was plenty else to rely on, of course - the expressive body language, dialogue, music and, of course, the scene setting. Now, in addition to all that, we could see every twitch, every blink, every raised eyebrow, every smile, every smirk and every bead of sweat. In Act II, when Simba sings “Endless Night” while looking up at the night sky and expressing his bitterness about Mufasa's promise to always be there for him, I could even see that his eyes were glistening with tears.

If you’re thinking of bringing your little one, children under 3 don’t need a ticket (but that also means that they don’t get a seat and have to sit on your lap). It’s not terribly scary, you can trust Disney on that account, even the villain is quite comical. Nevertheless, there are a couple of dark scenes, like the elephant graveyard and the death of Mufasa, plus the hyenas can be disturbing. It was great to see that Ryan understood the emotional content of these dark scenes – he was a little afraid – and it was also great to see that he handled it well.

The show, including a short interval, took about 2.5 hours. Ryan was mesmerised throughout. Richard pointed out all the different animals to him and he embraced the performance completely. In Act II, he was making comments and he even clapped his hands after a particularly lively song. He was in full concentration and didn’t fuss at all throughout the entire show, although he did ask for a very short nursing break in Act II.

Some trivia for you: The story is based on the beloved 1994 Disney animated film “The Lion King”, which tells a moving story of love and redemption. The musical has won over 70 major international theatre awards, including the 1998 Tony Award for Best Musical. It is one of only five productions in theatre history to play for ten years or more, both on Broadway and in the West End. In the West End, it grossed over 34 million pounds in 2010, which is the highest annual box office of any show in West End history, breaking its own record set in 2009.

The Lion King started an extended run in Singapore in March 2011 and, last Thursday, Base Entertainment and Marina Bay Sands in association with Disney Theatrical Productions announced that the musical broke yet another record by becoming the best selling show in Singapore history.

Catch it if you can, it's everything a musical should be, and perhaps a little more.


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