Many might argue that Broadway productions are not re-makes, they're masterfully-crafted, re-imagined versions of the original (book or film or both). I admittedly could not convince myself of the same before my trip to see The Lion King on Broadway. You see, I've never been a huge fan of sequels, extensions, or re-makes - see Mean Girls 2, the dramatized, lengthened TV version of the Pretty Little Liars series, and/or Grease 2.
The list goes on.
I am also still a newbie to the live musical scene despite my three-year tenure as a New York City resident. Before The Lion King, the only Broadway musical I had had the pleasure of seeing was Chicago. Chicago was amazing - the stage design, the candor of the personalities on stage - but, I was not familiar with Chicago before seeing the live musical. The novelty was it for me. The Lion King, on the other hand, has a limitless amount of personal associations to the '90s baby in me. I couldn't rationalize the thought of a human playing little lion Simba. Where would the accuracy be in that?! Nonetheless, I headed to the theater with my family unit of four for my brother's birthday earlier this year with as much mild enthusiasm as I could muster.
Prove me wrong, Broadway, prove me wrong. I actually loved the entire experience. My little heart strings were pulled every which way from the moment I heard the initial chords of the first song I recognized all the way through Simba's triumphant end. I honestly believe that the most heart-warming part of this particular performance was witnessing melanin and talent collide like nothing I had ever seen before. I grew up doing gymnastics and ballet; to this day, I still follow @browngirlsdoballet and @browngirlsdogymnastics on Instagram because of the nostalgia that surfaces when I see girls like me excelling at activities that made my life as a kid continuing to represent in athletic fields where we remain underrepresented and often times underestimated. Singing is not my portion, but watching young Simba excel in every form - singing, dancing, comedy - was heart-warming in every possible way.
Even more poignantly, watching the bond forged onstage between young Simba and Mufasa was astounding. Witnessing the young love that blossomed between Nala and Simba brought back so many fond memories of the original movie and of my adoration for Nala as a young girl hoping to be fearless like these lion cubs. I went in expecting to be disappointed by the unrealistic nature of the set props and the painted faces and left in awe of the artistry that went into every set transition, performance dance or song, and emotional moment onstage. I thought it would take so much more effort for me to pull my mind away from the original portrayal of the cartoon characters and I was wrong. Pulled in, forcefully, was I by the tantalizing light display and the songs that I remembered all too well from the days of my youth.
This experience reminded me more than anything else to continue to be open-minded. I might be alone in this, but as much as I love to read, I can't remember a time when I purposefully read a book twice. My philosophy has always been "why re-visit when there's so much left to explore for the very first time?" While there is certainly beauty to be found in novelty, I'm realizing more than ever in this season that there is also so much to be learned from taking a second glance or repeating a previous experience. Whether it's a book read years prior, or a familiar haunt close to home visited in adulthood, or a childhood movie taken in in musical form, new lessons are often disguised as familiar experiences.
If you're a variety addict like I am, it might be difficult for you to repeat restaurants, books, or films. Or maybe you're a serial re-watcher or re-visitor that could benefit from a new experience or two to switch it up. In either case, what's most important is recognizing the importance of finding balance in your day-to-day joys and experiences. If you haven't seen The Lion King on Broadway, I certainly recommend it. If you haven't tried a new restaurant or visited a new museum lately, I certainly recommend it. If you haven't stopped by a restaurant that you once tried and loved or taken the time to catch up on a show that you once loved, by all means, step out of the box. Sometimes it's familiarity that's the spice of life.
Finally, representation matters no matter where you are or what you're doing. The most important reminder that I took from this experience: when our people make it to any stage, big or small, well-known or in our hometowns, enjoy the arts and support the artists. If your preference is Broadway musicals, cool: support brown youth and adults killing it onstage during performances like The Lion King. As the arts continue to face much-needed pressure to include us, hopefully we will continue to see performers that look like us in feature performances that aren't based in areas that directors may assume to be more characteristically "colorful," such as the Kenyan-inspired film, The Lion King.
If you prefer hometown hero performances, cool: visit your local performing arts theater or little-known pop-up performance venue to support friends looking to kick start their comedy, spoken word, acting, or dance careers. The options are endless, but the onus remains the same: the more our dollars and cents fuel the performances that host our peers, family members, friends, and even strangers that simply share similar diasporic experiences, the stronger the case for their sustainability and protection may be.
What experiences could you undergo without limit without tiring of them? What's something new you're looking to try for the first time? Share your old faithfuls and to-do list activities with me on Instagram!