Roaring success

Roaring success

The Lion King musical grips Bangkok with a month-long engagement

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Roaring success
Scar and Mufasa face off. Joan Marcus

Hear the roar. The Lion King musical has begun its run in Bangkok, and it was nothing short of a wonder-feast for the eyes.

This year is truly a year of The Lion King for Bangkokians. The musical comes shortly after its live-action counterpart dropped in our cinemas a few months ago. With the classic story fresh in our mind, we walked into Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre with anticipation and excitement of how this story that has been with us since childhood will be reincarnated on our local stage.

For the most part, it was amazing. The Lion King musical was vivid. The sights. The sounds. The colours. The shadows. The dance. And most important of all, the spirit and energy that radiated from its solid cast. Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile was a commanding presence as Mufasa. I also liked Antony Lawrence as Scar. Scene stealers like Ntsepa Pitjeng as Rafiki and Andre Jewson as Zazu were a delight to watch. All in all, time flew.

A lot of great things can be said about this long-running musical. The clever use of puppetry and all the techniques employed made the wildlife of Africa come to life. Costumes were detailed. The music was lovely, and I liked how they set up musicians playing traditional native instruments on both sides of the theatre, like a small music showcase. The cast also incorporated some Thai words into the dialogue, which caused the crowd during the gala night I attended to erupt in applause.

At the same time, there were some aspects of the show that I wish were handled differently, like the stampede and Mufasa's eventual downfall. The stampede scene, with young Simba mock-running onstage and the herd in silhouette appearing to be giving chase, was a little poor and almost comical.

The grown-up Simba. BEC Tero/Scenario

We know the story by heart. We knew what was going to happen. We braced ourselves for it. But when the time came for the king to fall from grace, I didn't quite feel the gravity of it. The loss in that crucial scene, somehow, wasn't as impactful as I had anticipated.

Then, we had the lionesses mourning after Mufasa's death, with literal tears rolling down their eyes in the form of long white strips that reminded us too much of funny Japanese anime. That small touch felt unnecessary and distracting -- and unintentionally funny; many had a big laugh with it -- with the already sad-faced lionesses.

There was also a fight sequence in that final, taking-back Pride Rock scene that saw different characters engaged in a mock fight with the hyenas. The brief fight was very halfhearted and disappointing.

In certain segments, there were also dancers in colourful, native costumes hopping onstage for added vibrancy, though with them dressed in pretty much human costumes, they seemed very out of place among the wildlife.

Do we hear Hakuna Matata? Photos courtesy of BEC Tero/Scenario

The character design was also quite interesting. The distinction was pretty clear. On one side, we had characters like Zazu, Timon, Pumba and the hyenas in their iconic cartoonish look straight out of the 1994 film.

On the other hand, the lions and Rafiki were allowed a much more artistic interpretation in their appearances, with the use of masks and native costumes.

Would it have made a huge difference if all the characters were designed with the same approach? Perhaps. We did connect with those familiar-looking characters right away, but I surely would've loved to see how different they can look from their animated version.

Despite some minor hiccups, The Lion King -- in all its visual glory -- was satisfying and I don't recommend anyone miss out on it. It is in English, with Thai surtitles. However, with the surtitles positioned on the side of the stage, they're quite impractical to look at if you need to. But it doesn't matter all that much since most people will know the story by heart anyway.

The Lion King musical runs until Oct 27 at Muangthai Rachadalai theatre. For ticket reservations, visit thaiticketmajor.com.

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