Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

The Lion King from Screen to Stage

The Lion King on Broadway manages to lavishly recreate the African Savannah with the combination of puppetry and dance

As stated in my last post I recently saw The Lion King in 3D and while the gimmick of 3D didn’t really impress me, I was still excited to see it again on the big(ger) screen. The animation for this film stand up to the test of time and the music never fails to move and impress. I was about six when the film originally opened and can remember having to sit in the front row because the theater was so crowed. I remember craning my neck up to see all of the giraffes as they made their way across the screen to greet their new prince. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I got to see the stage musical of the film. I was still impressed by the giraffes’ entrance, and rightfully more so. The musical has broken Broadway records to become one of the longest running shows in the infamous street’s history. So without further ado here is the next section of my thesis about The Lion King!

Disney chose The Lion King as their next foyer into the theatre world. The film broke box office records and an artistic accomplishment.  The Lion King was set an anthropomorphic Africa, and focused on the story the prince of the pride lands, a lion named Simba, and his journey to the throne. The story itself borrows from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and several biblical stories; the stage was the perfect home for it.  Eisner hired the films composers, Elton John, Tim Rice and Lebo M, along with award winning stage director Julie Taymor to head the adaptation.  Taymor had a strong background in puppet theatre; she determined the use of elements of Bunraku and Shadow puppetry in the show.  Taymor’s vision played on showing the mechanics of the staging, not hiding the fact that the person on stage wasn’t an animal. “The fact that as a spectator you’re very aware of the human being with the tings strapped on…that there’s no attempt to mask the stilts and make them animal-like shapes – that’s why people cry,” (Schnider and Taymor , 52).

The films iconic opening that is visually stunning in animated form, a large challenge to recreate with the same impact on stage.

The Circle of Life recreated on stage, this photo only includes the portion of the cast on stage; the cavalry of animals also enters via the aisles.

With such a clear vision of how to translate the play Taymor designed the costumes too. The show gained a distinct African style. Taymor carefully made the distinction between the story of The Lion King and actual African tales “African tales are much more outrageous than this. This is a Western Story. What is African about The Lion King is Lebo’s music…the visuals, the textiles… and choreography,” (Schnider Taymor, 55).  The musical retained little visual similarities with the film, “The human and animal would both be seen, and celebrated, at the same time [through puppetry],” (Taymor Disney site).  Eisner trusted Taymor’s vision, “Let’s do all the puppet stuff. Because it’s risky, but the payoff is bigger,” (Schnider and Taymor, 44).

Mufasa and Zazu, his trusty Majordomo and advisor in the film

Mufasa on stage. His costume reinforces the powerful presence of a lion much less a king of lions.

Zazu as he appears on stage. He has an Edwardian feel as appropriate to the royal hierarchy set up in the plot. Not to mention original voice actor Rowan Atkinson’s roots.

Taymor wished to keep some semblance of the movie and tried to keep the principals close puppet interpretations of their film counterpart. Taymor describe her process “I thought, what if I create these giant masks that really are clearly Scar and Mufasa, but then the human face is revealed below, so that you’re not losing the human facial expression, you’re not hiding the actor,” (Taymor, Disney site).  Taymor teamed with Micahel Curry to help build the puppets. Taymor had a concept of having one actor portray multiple gazelles in her mind, but the technicality of doing so required assistance. Curry and Taymor also wished to keep the masks looking African in style, i.e. carved out of wood. Actors couldn’t perform leaps with trying to balance a mask on their heads. Curry ended up creating the masks from carbon graphite, they were painted and moulded to look like wood but weighed as little as nine ounces, allowing the actor to freely move (The Lion King study guide, 26).

Taymor’s sketch of Simba’s adult form costume

Simba in his adult form on stage. Notice how bright and vibrant his costume is in comparison to Mufasa’s to represent his youth and the noticeably differentiate the two.

Mufasa and Scar face off on stage. This is one of the few moments the lion actors lower their lion masks to cover their faces. This is to replicate traditional puppet theatre movement styles and also to represent the hostility of the animal world, in which animals may literally “pull a face” to ward off threats.

Taymor reinforced the story’s African setting in the costume both through the masks and puppets but also through the fabrics used. Bright prints were used on costumes along with grass skirts and woven corsets and armour. “…the human qualities of the lions come out in the African styled beadwork, corsets, armour and cloth, the costumes use silk cloth to negate the human shape, breaking the shoulder line, enhancing the powerful joints and thighs,” (Taymor, Disney site).

The kings’ shaman and trusted friend Rafiki in the film.

Rafiki on stage, she acts as a guiding force throughout the show and is consequently less akin in looks to the film counterpart to allow the audience to connect with her more easily.

The film’s beloved dynamic duo, Timon and Pumba who bear the most resemblance to their film counterparts out of everyone in the show.

The Lion King became as big a hit as its predecessor Beauty and The Beast. In 1998 the musical won six Tony’s and eight Drama Desk Awards. Disney now had two hit shows on Broadway and looked to maintain a constant presence there. Disney began to develop an original musical, Aida in 2000, and looked overseas for its next interpretation of one of their animated features. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was another in a string of animated hits for Disney in the mid-nineties, and already had non-Disney stage interpretations. The company choose Berlin to stage the adaptation, there named Der Glöckner von Notre Dame. The musical followed Victor Hugo’s original story line of the same titled book, giving it a more gothic feel and sound than the film.  American designer Sue Blane designed the costumes. Blane drew inspiration from commedia dell’arte, the show features lush gypsy fabrics and even Quasimodo’s rags are rich with color.  The musical’s look mirrors its film counterpart, the characters retain their recognizable style.

Quasimodo watching over a sleeping Esmeralda in the stage musical

A cell from the film in which Quasimodo is crowned

Quasimodo is crowned king on stage. Notice the bright colors that repeat in the costumes as from the film.In a rare move,

In a rare move, Disney did not shrink away from showing the torment and cruelty Quasimodo was subjected to for the film.

The scene is beautifully recreated for the play. While he is not as physically disarrayed the scene still reads as painful for Quasimodo.

The musical enjoyed a three year run in Berlin, the longest in the city’s history. Disney Theatrical Group recently made the announcement for an American adaptation of the show. Stephan Swartz of Wicked fame and Disney’s go to composer Alan Menken are signed on to create the shows music. No word out yet if the show’s plot will follow that of film or Hugo’s novel.  Either way, it should be a great show!

Quasimodo and his Gargoyle confidantes, who serve as his only friends, each with their unique look and personality.

To re-create his stone friends, a combination of costumes and set pieces was used to animate the inanimate objects.

Disney now turned to adapt another of their classic movies into a musical, this time Mary Poppins. The musical premiered once more overseas, in London, and this time made the successful transition over to Broadway. The challenge of translating the animation into real life action and costumes didn’t occur for Mary Poppins. The show maintains the movies original look and even costumes in Mary’s case but also add new flair with brighter colors and adding same color pieces to the Banks children and Burt to convey their closeness to Mary. Audience loved the show, already familiar with the characters and a better part of the shows score from their own childhood. (The show is amazing and heartwarming, and best of all the Burt the Chimney Sweep literally tap dance on the ceiling, while singing!)

Chim-Chim Cheree, a scene from Mary Poppins on Broadway. Thankfully audiences do get the chance to sing along to the shows already well known tunes.

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This entry was published on September 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm. It’s filed under Entertainment, Sep. 2011 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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