The Lion King at Mandalay Bay: A New View of a Trusted Tale

Posted by on October 31, 2010

As a father and annual visitor to Disney parks for well over a decade, I felt fairly confident in saying I knew The Lion King story inside and out.  The movie, the characters, the music — they’ve all been part of my life for some time now.

So when I was offered a complimentary ticket to see a Broadway performance version of The Lion King while attending a conference at The Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas on October 16th, I had to think twice.  Should I pursue a quick dinner and get packed up for my early morning flight the next day or go to a show? 

A little “hakuna matata” (no worries) won out.  A busy three day business trip and the three-hour time zone difference had drained me.  It would be nice to kick back in The Mandalay Bay Theatre even if I knew the plot, characters, and music by heart.  And it was certainly a better cost-savings move than wandering the casino floor!

A fourth row, center section mid-aisle seat placed me dead center stage with one of the best seats in the house.  While I was positioned perfectly, I don’t really believe there was a bad seat in the house. 

Marija Juliette Abney, Jeremiah Tatum, and Derrick Spear in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING Las Vegas.  ©2009, Disney.  Photo Credit:  Joan Marcus.The audience is pulled into the action immediately with a spectacular opening parade of life-sized animals, actors, and visual arts dancing down the aisles and onto the stage.  It did not take long for me to realize this was not going to be another DVD video of The Lion King or a cartoonish experience at the Disney parks.  I was in for a professionally entertaining treat.

The costumes were consistently eye-catching.  They were bright and stunning, yet appropriate and not overwhelming for each actor. Make-up was done to a “T” with each character coming to life for a father who has heard the story dozens of times. 

The sets were simple, yet detailed in design, and brought each scene to life.  They set an appropriate tone for each scene, some calming and humorous while others brought tension and even death to the storyline.  One can only imagine the hours of hard work and skill which goes into building the sets.

The orchestra and music talent were perfect.  It could not have been better if Elton John was performing it in person.  They literally never missed a beat!

All of the actors were excellent.  But Young Simba, Rafiki, Scar, Timon, and Zazu stood out as performing above-and-beyond duty in an overall cast of master actors.  The energy and passion they brought to their characters shined through in each of their scenes.

In a show running about two and one-half hours, I anticipated finding a few things to be a bit critical of during any performance of such length.  But the show moved quickly, capturing my undivided attention each scene along the way.  Fast-paced but powerful, it was executed with perfection from the view of a father who had expected to be a bit less intrigued than perhaps the first-time observer of this trusted tale.

My biggest criticism was discovered outside of the theater during intermission.  The 15-minute break did not mix well with long lines at the restrooms outside of the theater and equally long lines at the bar where people understandably needed a soft drink (or other refreshment) in the middle of a longer show.  When I saw a line at the men’s room which was as long as that at the women’s room, I knew we were all in trouble.

While a special insert suggested the facility operators knew the restroom situation was a problem, sending us to opposite ends of the casino took a bite out of an already tight turnaround time.  If you want to be back in your seats before Act two, your will only get one or the other:  A restroom break OR a refreshment break, but don’t expect both.

Act Two opens with an entrance of characters down the aisles in the same stunning fashion as the show opening.  The tight intermission and long lines certainly robs too many unknowing attendees of a great experience in Act Two.  Hopefully enough people have their “fur” raised and growl loudly enough to trigger show leaders to fix this flaw in an otherwise flawless event.

My advice:

  1. Get in early for both Acts One and Two.  If you miss the parade down the aisles, you lose a great experience.
  2. Create a strategic, tactical attack plan for handling the intermission, especially if you want both restroom breaks and refreshments.  You might be able to pull it off it you are with a group.  If you are attending solo, good luck!  
  3. Visit the gift shop BEFORE your show, if possible.  It is smaller and quite busy immediately after the show.
  4. Take your family to the show, but do so with age-appropriate considerations.  Two and one-half hours is a long time for a family with toddlers.  Teens, and perhaps tweens, will remember this family outing as a treasured opportunity, but even a spectacular show like this may not work well with the little ones who can handle the DVD and Disney Parks experience for only a short time.
  5. Pack along some bucks, as you do for any theater or Vegas experience.  Good seats and even a soft drink won’t come cheaply, but it will be an investment you will remember.

My biggest advice:  Don’t let the the name of the show fool you.  It is not your DVD version of The Lion King.  Expect an adult view of a trusted tale, executed with perfection.

And don’t we all (especially my readers who are parents and youth safety professionals) deserve a little more “Hakuna Matata” in our stressful lives?!

Ken Trump

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Disclaimer:  The complimentary ticket and a VIP visitor’s bag with a playbill and show hat were provided in exchange for an independent review of the show by bloggers attending the BlogWorld 2010 conference at Mandalay Bay.  The ticket was not dependent upon favorable reviews nor did it influence this review.

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