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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Our Big Night Out seeing Disney’s The Lion King @OCPAC

I took my own little cub to see Disney’s The Lion King this weekend. Planning a Big Night Out with my little boy to go see the national touring company in our very own Orange County Performing Arts Center had me excited all week long, telling coworkers, neighbors and even tweeting to perfect strangers of our big plans.
Being a native OC gal, I have a strong sense of loyalty to my favorite OC places and I’ve considered Disneyland part of my backyard playground ever since I was kid, so seeing The Lion King live on stage at one of my favorite OC theater venues had me very excited (no bumper-to-bumper freeway drive up to LA = a big YAY for this OC rooted mom). Our tickets were for Friday night, so I left work a tiny bit early to pick up Son after school and got home to put on our fancy Big Night Out clothes. Son wasn’t super thrilled about wearing his suit and tie, but his grumbling stopped as soon as I put on The Lion King CD and we were both singing Hakuna Matata as we got gussied up. We were starting to run a bit late, so as soon as Son was dressed in his suit and his hair was gelled to his liking, I told him to run put on his shoes and get in the car while I did a few last minute things around the house.
We had dinner reservations at Scott’s, my favorite restaurant for pre-theater dining at OCPAC and South Coast Rep shows. Why, you ask? It has inexpensive valet parking and it’s a beautiful walk through the shaded trees to get to the theater - much nicer than using the parking structures. Scott’s is fine dining done right (with the best calamari in OC), even if you’re with kids and especially if you're on a theater timetable.
When we got out of the car, the first thing I noticed as Son skipped to the door were the junkiest tennies - ripped toes and dried mud – peeking out from under his pristine suit pants. This mom did the standard head slap and gasped, “Son! Those are the shoes you chose to wear with your suit?” He looked down and seemed surprised to see them on his feet. I guess being in a hurry and leaving that last little detail un-mom-micromanaged left room for some kid sense to liven up our evening. I immediately debated about spending the evening looking at his impeccable suit paired with his grunge shoes, or being type A mom and fixing what I saw to be a problem. I chose TypeA.
As we sat down to our table topped with pristine white starched table linens, I called Sears across the street at South Coast Plaza and bought a pair of dress shoes over the phone from the Operator. Amazingly easy. Then the real magic happened. I asked my waiter, Don, to see if someone on their staff could help save the day and drive across the street to pick up the shoes. Scott’s staff made it happen. Simple as that.
While Son and I split a juicy filet mignon and sipped our drinks (Milk for Son, Lemon Drop Martini for me) the hostess staff took care of making my Type-A anxiety go away. The Lemon Drop helped a bit, too. The shoes were personally delivered by a savior hostess, Son dutifully put them on and all was well and order had returned to my Drama Momma world. If you've never been to Scott’s, please go there on your next date night. Do dinner and a play. You’ll love it and you can thank me later.


After our dinner at Scott’s we strolled on the path winding through majestically tall trees which let the sunlight slip through leaves. It’s a beautiful transition from dining to the OC Performing Arts Center. The building itself is an architectural work of art to be enjoyed as you approach. Can you see Son with arms raised in the hedge maze? It reminded me a little bit of little Simba chasing Nala through the Pride Lands. You can put a boy in a suit but you can’t take out his playfulness.
We get to our seats and as we settle in Son and I can both feel the energy in the room. Everyone’s excited to see the show. The lights go down, the score swells from the orchestra pit, as well as the two full percussion areas set up on either side of the stage to emphasize the importance of the tribal beat in the African Pridelands. The opening number is the famous The Circle of Life featuring shaman Rafiki and all the animals of Africa. What a chill producing opening it is! Wild animals fill the hall migrating down the aisles toward the stage. Zebra, hippo, flocks of birds … it’s an amazing spectacle and as I looked around at the audience, everyone’s face glowed with awe. Young and old were spellbound by this majestically graceful opening number.
The score features Elton John and Tim Rice's music from the animated film along with three new songs by John and Rice and additional musical material by South African Lebo M and others. The music immediately sweeps the audience out of OC and into the Pridelands ruled by Mufasa, and his little cub, Simba.
As if you haven’t heard, The Lion King is a coming of age parable set among animals of the African savanna, telling the tale of Simba, the lion cub who rises to be the King of the jungle. Simba’s struggle brings to life the moral of facing one’s responsibilities, even if doing so causes fear and vulnerability. When fear is overcome, maturity is born. I asked Son if there were any good lessons to be learned and he said, “Not really.” Ah, well. Perhaps it’s best the lessons are so well woven into the storyline they remain hidden as a great tale and can be relied upon in the future, when Son’s need for strength and virtue are in order.
Using stylized African masks, puppets the animals of The Lion King become bigger than life on stage. With resemblance to both the masks of the Greek Tragedies and historic African art, they help define the character, set the mood and create a visual impact that defies description, but your heart will understand. My favorite use of masks happened as the lionesses pulled out long, blue silk ribbons of tears from the eyes of the masks, grieving at the death of their King, Mufasa. Very Greek Tragedy and I loved it. Another great thing is the use of masks and puppets makes everything bigger and bolder, so the actors are not tiny specs to be seen through binoculars from the balcony seats.
The use of silhouettes throughout the show offers a visual feast for the eyes, with gigantic sunsets and muscle-bound dancers wearing tall grass headdresses depicting the grassy plains through which puppets Nala and Simba frolic. The puppets are used to show depth and distance, and the live actors appear downstage to capture our attention as the story progresses.


One of my favorite bits of choreography was watching the intricate gymnastic moves of Nala and Simba when they reunite in the jungle. Nala pounces on Simba with leaps with joy. Simba playfully pushes her leaps away in mid air and they continue their intertwined pivots, twirls and leaps as they rediscover their friendship. I could see it had to be precise, using their grace and strength to make it look effortless. The next morning, as Son was watching our Lion King DVD, he said, “you know they really didn’t have any dancing like Beauty and the Beast” and I knew what he was saying was accurate; it was a dance of life, seamlessly intertwined with the storyline. Beautiful.
Not too long ago, Son was in his very first school play, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr. Son was in the chorus and performed in the big number, Be Our Guest. It made me think of how Disney just does everything to perfection, taking classic tales and turning them into cartoon movie features, books, stage performances for adults and even adapting them for junior productions. I am a fan. In fact, I’m going to be getting out my calendar to make sure I save a date for taking Son to see Disney’s Mary Poppins, coming to the OCPAC in July 2011. Momma and Son will create more memories at our next Big Night Out. It’s a date, thanks to Scott's, OCPAC and Disney.
Things Son said:
During the part where Simba cries over his dead father: “Momma, I’m not crying. I have something in my eye.”
The next morning: “Momma, can we go again tonight?”
Every time we get in the car: “Can we listen to Hakuna Matata? It’s #11”
In Orange County, THE LION KING will play Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sunday evenings at 6:30 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. and a Thursday matinee on May 27 at 2 p.m. Ticket prices start as low as $23.25. Additionally, Premium Ticket Packages, which include a prime seat location, a commemorative souvenir program and an exclusive merchandise item, are also available. Tickets are available online at OCPAC.org, by calling 714.556.2787 or at the Center’s Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. Orders for groups of 20 or more may be placed by calling the Group Services office at 714.755.0236. The TTY number is 714.556.2746. The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, June 12 will be sign-language interpreted.
photo credit Joan Marcus THE LION KING National Tour (c) Disney.

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