The Lion King musical is a musical adaptation of the 1994 animated Disney film of the same time. An award-winning Broadway stage musical which is directed by Julie Taymor, it features actors dressed up in animal costumes and prominently uses traditional African costumes and African Safari themed sets. The basic plot of the story is identical to its animated feature counterpart which takes place in the fictional Pride Lands of Africa. It is here where a Lion King, Mufasa rules over the animals of the Serengeti. The beginning scene shows the presentation of the new born cub and future king, Simba, to a gathering of the animals at Pride Rock.
The conflict arises when the brother of Mufasa, Scar, engineers the tragic demise of the king and blames Simba for it with the goal of being the sole heir to the throne. At the onset, it may seem that animals portraying human beings has little to with the humanities but it in fact presents an accurate description of the conflict that arises in the African states among the tribes and also reflects the beautiful African culture as shown in the intricate and colorful sets and the heart moving music that is provided.
The musical deviates from the animated feature on a few key aspects with regard to the music as the mandrill, Rafiki, was changed into a female role. There are also a few key scenes which have been inserted such as the conversation between Mufasa and Zazu on the upbringing of Mufasa as well as the dangerous scene where Simba feels powerless to help a drowning Timon. Another scene which was not included in the animated movie was the depiction of the departure of Nala, Simba’s future mate in the scene “The Madness of King Scar”, where the villain, Scar, tries to convince Nala to be his mate.
This scene also features a new song entitled “Shadowland. ” All of these new scenes as well as the use of costumes feature mechanical headpieces that are raised and lowered during the play to create the illusion of a cat “lunging” at another or the use of large headpieces resembling the traditional headpieces of African tribes, add a new dimension to the already rich cultural blend of the Lion King. This new dimension actually mirrors the political environment of present day Africa by presenting the thesis of how the beauty of the African culture and landscape is being devastated by the political uprisings that are presently occurring.
The struggle for power demonstrated by the main characters of this musical, Simba and Scar, is analogous to the political turmoil in most of the African states where families and cultural groups all battle for control over the country. The symbolism of the hyenas and the lions also depicts the traditional conflict between those born into power and those born coveting power. Africa, having a traditionally patriarchal society, is torn into chaos and confusion as these powerful groups fight for control of the country, which in the musical is depicted as the Pride Lands.
Control over the resources such as food and water, is the basic driving force which catapults such groups into power. All of these themes and conflicts are complimented by the beautiful musical background which prominently features African Zulu chants similar to the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which was popularized by Paul Simon. The adaptation of Swahili lyrics instead of the original English lyrics for the song “Lea Halelela” give the audience an authentic feel of the rich culture of the African continent. Perhaps the most beautiful song of the musical is featured at the beginning when the song “The Circle of Life” is sung.
The song touches one on many different levels and provides a deeper understanding into the African cultures, their beliefs and respect for the natural balance in nature. The song does not merely celebrate the birth and presentation of Simba but also highlights the natural cycle of things. While it generally celebrates the birth of new life, it also foretells the death that is about to come which is natural for all living things. The African tribes and peoples, until recently, have survived from living off the resources of the land.
The key to their survival has been their understanding of the cycle of life, how new life is born and how life eventually fades away, giving in to the new kings of the land. [MS:] Nants ingonyama bagithi baba [There comes a lion] [BS:] Sithi uhhmm ingonyama [Oh yes, it’s a lion] [MS:] Nants ingonyama bagithi baba [There comes a lion] [BS:] Sithi uhhmm ingonyama [Oh yes, it’s a lion] Ingonyama [MS:] Siyo Nqoba [We’re going to conquer] [BS:] Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw’ enamabaal [It’s a lion and a tiger] Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala (Se-to-kwa! ) Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala (Asana)
These lyrics from the beginning of the song are of Zulu origin, with some influences from Sesotho or Tswana. This shows the respect that African tribes have for the animals of the land and recognition of the role of the king of the pride at the top of the food chain with man. From a political perspective it also realizes that given the limited resources of the African continent, there is a need for a strong ruler, a king, who is able to efficiently distribute these resources to his constituents. It shows how power is consolidated in a single strong figure that is able to places the needs of the people first.
This theme is explicitly shown in the scenes after Scar rises into power and how his greed corrupts and destroys the once rich Pride Lands. The thing that gives life to the musical is the rich blend of African culture and music into the play. The use of African influences on the sets and in the lyrics of the song does a lot to not only give the audience a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage that can be found in Africa but also into just how developed the understanding of these people is of the intricacies of nature and the respect that they have for the land and for the circle of life.