May is a mad month. A month of random musings about various topics related to musical theatre. Feel free to share your thoughts on each topic in the comment box below.
The Best Disney Musical on Broadway
Seems like Disney’s having a tough time on Broadway. With many of their shows closed and some of their last couple of shows not being the long-running juggernauts they had hoped, Disney is currently involved in the production of only four shows on the Great White Way: Arcadia, The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Sister Act.
Arcadia is a revival of a play, so it is irrelevant to this discussion. Sister Act is newly opened on Broadway in a revised version, but I’m still not won over by the score of this show. Actually, I haven’t engaged with it in enough depth to make up my mind – although my initial reaction to the show has been less than positive. That leaves The Lion King and Mary Poppins.
Of those two shows, I’d say my vote would have to go to The Lion King. Although there are much more interesting shows on Broadway right now, the theatricality of The Lion King is worth seeing once in your lifetime. What Julie Taymor conceived in translating the show from film to stage is simply ingenious in some places. It’s a pity that the book and score don’t match her work for quality. Some people like to make out as though the show is a complete snoozefest after the brilliant opening number is done. It isn’t. It is true that the show has a hard time living up to the promise of its opening number and that there are many flaws: a lot of pure rubbish by Tim Rice and Elton John has been added to the show, which is unfortunate, and interval is in the wrong place. But there are other high points, like the second act encounter Simba has with the ghost of his father and “Shadowland” and many other little things, like the new Lebo M material. In those aspects, The Lion King expands on some of the strongest points of the film. I appreciated those bits immensely and I am glad that I saw the show once – even if I feel like I don’t need to see it ever again.
Mary Poppins, on the other hand, is a very mixed bag, with bits of fun thrown in here and there. The new songs simply aren’t as good as the old ones and some of the new arrangements for the old material just don’t measure up to the originals. Although trumpeted as being more faithful to the books, as though that alone were some kind of artistic triumph, what this adaptation forgets is that what works in a novel sometimes doesn’t work dramatically. Yes, some parts of the stage show are quirky and enjoyable. But other parts are just downright embarrassing, like the those awful, awful, awful costumes for the statues or the way that Mrs Banks has been totally watered down as a character. It’s a mediocre adaptation of a brilliant film. Such a pity.
The way that Mrs Banks has been totally watered down as a character pissed me off about the stage version of Mary Poppins. “Sister Suffragette” was one of my favorite parts of the film version and I loved Glynis Johns’ portrayal of the character. I realize Mrs. Banks wasn’t as prominent in the P.L. Travers books, but they threw away pure gold.
How could I forget the naked statues in Mary Poppins?!! I’ve ranted about them on more than one occasion before. That part absolutely was tacky and highly embarrassing. And I’m the type of person who is very open minded when it comes to nakedness. I’d chuck all my clothes today if it were acceptable to do so! But that was just awkward. I turned bright red and couldn’t wait for the scene to be over. I slid back down into my seat whenever they’d come out again. A lot of the awkwardness was due to there being a ton of children and families in the audience and the ridiculous suggestive poses and choreography the statues were performing constantly that just happened to place emphasis on their junk! Shapely and highly defined camel-toe and packages were too much considering the context!
If I were to compare it to the film, the film would obviously be the better of the two, but I enjoyed the stage version nonetheless. I enjoyed it more than I expected and was actually ready to hate it as I cringed at what they did to “Feed the Birds” after watching a clip of it on YouTube. But on its own, it was a fun experience overall. I’m still surprised I was able to separate the two versions and enjoy the one on stage while still highly valuing the original film. I guess they kept intact most of what I liked about the film and the additions were mostly decently to well integrated with the existing material. A quirky moment in the film that I indeed missed greatly when I saw the stage version was “Sister Suffragette”! Nobody will ever top Glynis. NOBODY.
As for The Lion King, I have no idea if I’d like it as I haven’t seen it so I wouldn’t outright tell people to avoid it.
Yeah, you’re probably right that nobody will ever top Glynis Johns. Still, I would have loved that song to remain in the stage version, even if it didn’t match up. Now I have it stuck in my head.
Both are great shows, but if you asked me, I would say Mary Poppins, even though there are some misfires in the execution and structure of the show. As for The Lion King, I thought it was good and like David said, it would be good to go and see just once. For me, when I really enjoy a show, I am usually talking people’s ear off about it for a week or two after seeing it. This was not so with The Lion King. However, I was raving about Mary Poppins for a fair amount of time after seeing the show.