Jul 20, 2013

The Critic Sleeps Tonight

As I write this, my four-year-old son is at a matinee of The Lion King with my wife. (Ah, seems like only yesterday he was going to toddler theatre...) They've never seen it; I saw it twice at the Pantages in Los Angeles, and my review in 2000 was decidedly mixed:
They say you can't argue with success, but here goes. Disney's Tony-winning stage adaptation of its hit animated film The Lion King, now onstage in Hollywood's newly sumptuous Pantages Theatre, is really two shows for the price of one: The first is a captivating, haunting, endlessly inventive visual and aural feast, with South African choral-and-drum music by Lebo M, sinuous choreography by Garth Fagan, almost edibly gorgeous lighting by Donald Holder, and the ingenious puppetry of Michael Curry. As shaped by director Julie Taymor, this first show is indeed as groundbreaking and replete with theatrical wonders as the hype has promised. The second show, which shares the stage uncomfortably with the first, is a tacky rehash of the animated film, complete with Elton John and Tim Rice's unprepossessing songs, and Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi's flat characterizations and vapid dialogue; blame for the clunky lyrics to the new music is spread among five writers. While much of the design ingenuity of the aforementioned masters is also evident in this other show, its key elements--book, lyrics, and music--range from mildly diverting to appalling.
So why did we just spend full price for two house seats, using some birthday money from my dad to help cover just one of the tickets? (Face value these days is--gulp!--$170, which I'm ashamed to say was a rude shock to me.) It's not like there aren't other, and much cheaper family entertainment options in New York. But as much as I like to think that kids' entertainment need not be overly pandering or cloying, and that there need not be a category of film and theater and music tailored specifically to young attention spans and unformed tastes--there is, and it's huge, and much of it that's available to us, from Pixar to New Victory to Music Together, is at a pretty high level (though Blue Man Group, which we took our oldest son to a month ago, was a bit too much for his tender age). So I'm willing to draw lines, and admit that while there is plenty of un-nourishing crap out there that it's best to steer my kids away from, there's also a lot of solid, well-made entertainment I don't personally care for that isn't going to rot their brains.

It's the reason I don't mind too much when my wife shows our sons The Sound of Music, a film whose charms I'm largely allergic to; I'd prefer a regular rotation of Singin' in the Rain, or if it must be a Julie Andrews film, Mary Poppins, but a little "Do Re Mi" isn't going to kill them.

Likewise, I guess, "Hakuna Matata."

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