Prelude to the Mane Event

Disney’s THE LION KING Launch
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd October, 2012

The cinema has trailers to let you know of forthcoming attractions. The theatre has launches. I was lucky enough to be invited to such an occasion this morning in Birmingham’s tucked-away gem, the Crescent Theatre. It had been taken over for the day by Birmingham Hippodrome to promote what will be one of the city’s greatest theatrical events next year: the touring production of the West End, Broadway and global phenomenon, the stage musical adaptation of one of the most successful animated feature films ever.

Gasp.

I make a big deal of it because I’m against a notion prevalent within the minds of some producers, agents and other showbiz professionals that nothing of note goes on beyond the bounds of the M25. That a tour of a show of this scale (50 people on stage, 150 behind the scenes) is now do-able is good news all around the country and is a big feather in the Hippodrome’s cap. If people are attracted to their local theatre by a big show, they may well come back for some of the other, homegrown fare. Theatre can be very addictive.

(Of course, there is a counter-argument that someone more academic than I could posit in a hefty dissertation about the branding of shows and the plundering of other cultures in the postmodern, corporate world. I’m not going to do that here. Perhaps I will be led to touch on such matters when I come to review the show next June.)

These launches are always very pleasant. A glass of Buck’s Fizz at 10:30? Don’t mind if I do. Who attends? Apart from yours truly and various members of the Press, the place was packed with “friends” of the Hippodrome, group bookers, and also representatives from a range of businesses. An influx of theatregoers into the city will bring opportunities for restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and all the rest of them. This is a marketing exercise, after all.

It was also a very enjoyable morning.

The presentation was led by Stephen Crocker of Disney Theatrical Group. Using slides and video clips, he described the genesis of the stage show – a sort of ‘making of’ feature like you find on DVDs. Best of all there were songs by cast members in full get-up. “Rafiki “got things off to a hair-raising, blood-stirring start with The Circle of Life, backed by the Birmingham Gospel Choir. There is something primal, something rousing about this number, coupled of course with nostalgia for the film. Other songs were performed by members of the London cast, as Simba and Nala. We began to see how the masks, on top of their heads rather than over their faces, work.

Crocker demonstrated some of the masks and even in his inexpert hands, the remarkable puppet of the bird Zazu came to life. On screen, director and genius-in-chief Julie Taymor spoke of her eclectic use of Masai dress and Balinese jewellery for example, and the simple but ingenious way animals, plants and even the sunrise are represented. It’s all about theatricality, which is refreshing in this CGI-saturated world. More than that, The Lion King, like any myth, like the Shakespeare from which it borrows, is about people. This informs all of Taymor’s design and directorial choices. It was fascinating. You might say, she has pride in her work. (You might; I would never stoop to such a poor joke.) It might be (well, it definitely is!) a commercial venture, but it’s also about artistry of the highest quality.

And it certainly did the trick with me. I can’t wait to see the show. June 2013 seems a long way off. Start saving your pennies, folks.

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About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic http://williamstaffordnovelist.wordpress.com/ http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B008AD0YGO and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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