Thursday was a really awful day in the universe, especially for residents of the Twin Cities. If you haven’t heard about the shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights (right on the heels of the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and soon to be followed by a shooting resulting in the death of several police officers at a protest in Dallas), then you have insulated yourself in a much more peaceful world than I currently find myself in. I am very angry and very sad and very scared, and it was not an easy feat for me to leave my apartment and go see a show on Thursday night. But I’m very, very grateful that I did.
I don’t believe it’s possible to see a show in a vacuum. Each one of us brings a certain perspective in with us when we see a performance and I certainly had a very grim and heavy on when I entered the Orpheum to see The Lion King. But if I could have seen any show, I am so happy it was this one. For years, people have been telling me how mesmerizing, how breath-taking, how utterly stunning this production is. And they’re not wrong. I could go on for days about how beautiful the costuming, the lighting, the staging, and the composing is, not to mention the puppetry and performances by the actors themselves. And while these aspects certainly should be given their due, I’d like to focus instead on the wider effects of this musical for me as an audience member on a day like Thursday.
What was powerful about seeing The Lion King when I did is that it is simultaneously escapist and making a commentary on the world around us. It is a beautiful, spectacular show that drew me in and made me leave behind the problems of the world around me for a few hours. But it also commented on those issues, showing what happens when a lion pride is torn apart by greed and injustice. Our world is fraught with pain and to see this pain represented in way that is tolerable and can be dealt with, in a story familiar to me from my childhood, was a great comfort.
The Broadway production of The Lion King celebrates Africa, not as a singular entity but as a diverse continent. Throughout the show, different costuming and dance elements weave different traditions from around the globe into a collage that helps the audience traverse Simba’s story across the savannah, to the desert, to the jungle, and back again. Though it isn’t easy to pinpoint exactly which cultures were being represented, the differences were notable, especially the inclusion of six different languages (Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Congolese) in music and dialogue. Most powerful of all were the number of actors of color onstage, creating this story of hope and joy. On a dark, grim day, this alone made things better.
Our world is a troubled place and no amount of hiding from our problems or wishing it away will cure it. Simba’s recognition that living hakuna matata can’t truly exist if he doesn’t help to change his world certainly echoed a deeper meaning in my mind and one that I’m happy to see is still being told to children of a younger generation. This tour could not have come to Minneapolis at a better time, though I can’t help but wonder if it’s difficult for the actors and crew to be here now. Regardless, I’m grateful to have seen this and hope for a successful run for the show.
The Lion King is playing now through August 7th at the Orpheum Theater. A sensory-friendly performance is being performed on July 3oth at 2pm, the first of its kind to come to Minnesota. Read more about it in my post here and buy tickets/find more about the show at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s website.