Monday, July 11, 2016

The Lion King Reigns for a Reason

There is no better tonic for a city with a broken heart than this truly magical show.

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
As the entire world is now aware, Wednesday, July 6 was a terrible day for the Twin Cities, after the video of Philando Castile's murder was released.** So it was with a heavy heart that I went with family to see The Lion King the next day. I'm not sure what I was expecting to feel on entering the show - I know that I questioned even attending at all - but I was blown away by how healing the performance was and how flawlessly delivered.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The long and short of it: this is the perfect show for broken souls.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The parallels between the story were also almost eerily contemporary, in a way I haven't appreciated in past viewings of the movie or the play. A young boy watches his father killed violently in front of him? Check. A population of females is subjected to misogynistic rule? Check. An unlikely alliance of creatures from different backgrounds, species and experiences is the only force able to defeat evil? Check. The earth is dying when resources are plundered, but revives itself once the circle of life is restored? Check and check.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
It goes without saying that this is a truly beautiful show, but if you haven't seen it before please do yourself a favor and revel in the spectacle. Sets are universally gorgeous with a cubist-abstract-earthy aesthetic that is hard to describe but makes perfect sense (for example, humans wearing headdresses with a shock of grass and softly swaying woven raffia skirts perfectly mimic a breeze across the savanna grass). Costumes incorporate a magical fusion of masks, face paints, elaborate beading and more. The animal costumes are amazingly realistic and an example to other shows that attempt to place animals front and center (looking at you, Little Mermaid). The choreography is spectacular; Alvin Ailey's ghost is all over this, and it blends seamlessly with a series of photo-realistic animal movements. Watching the feline silhouettes stalk sharply against a torn paper collaged sunset is a gorgeous experience, like stepping into a die-cut Georgia O'Keefe painting, and it is so. worth. it.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The musical talents of the cast aren't to be overlooked, either. Nala (Nia Holloway) and Rafiki (Buyi Zama) are standouts, bringing a highly emotive range to their songs. Gerald Ramsey (Mufasa) and Patrick Brown (Scar) have a good dynamic as the dueling royal brothers, and their masculine struts enliven the stage. Drew Hirshfield is wryly comedic as Zazu, joining Robbie Swift (Pumbaa) and Nick Cordileone (Timon) to compel highly necessary laughs from the audience.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
In a broken world, sometimes it's extremely healthy for us to take a break and perform self-care. Watching The Lion King last Thursday was that necessary relief for me, an island of pure beauty and hope amidst the swirling seas of political unrest that we face today. If you were touched by the tragedy of Philando, you will probably find a lot of parallels in this story. Even if you weren't, this is a damn good story with a gorgeous presentation and fabulous music, and it is worth a visit at least once in your lifetime. The Lion King runs through August 7* at the Orpheum Theater. Make sure you stop by. 

*As a note, Hennepin Theater Trust is holding their FIRST EVER sensory friendly performance for this show, on July 30 at 2 p.m. I think this is incredibly cool and encourage people to spread the word. 

**If you're as concerned about recent events as I am, it behooves you to get involved. Regardless of your race, this is a problem that won't be solved unless we work together. There are many things you can do: if you want to help Philando's family, click here; work with Black Lives Matter and the protestors, click here; advocate from change from local officials, click here. Getting involved is always a good thing, and I think the big problems we face will only be solved by working together. Feel free to message if you have any questions.