I attended the Orpheum’s opening performance of The Lion King, shaken by the previous days’ deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, only to emerge to news of the shootings of five Dallas police officers.
For a few short hours, I was swept up by the fantastic power of theater, in a performance as enchanting as it must have been when it premiered here pre-Broadway in 1997. This is its fourth month-long tour here (through August 7), and on my second viewing I was still enchanted by the leaping, bounding creatures, the very life of the savanna. Roiling across the stage, spilling up and down the aisles, Julie Taymor’s astounding costuming and puppetry draw the viewer into the action.
Reality reared its head with the evil Scar, murder, and the dissolution of a natural world through greed and violence. Although good won out, as it should, when Simba returned as king. Shamanically, the play teaches that we all have a place in the circle of life, illustrating that without that inclusion comes chaos and death.
It’s likely that the myriad of young viewers were not troubled by the darker subtexts unfolding in the drama — after all, they’d collectively seen it thousands of times over in the original Disney 1994 animated film and could maintain their faith in Simba till the end.
At the finale, as the actors, dancers, and puppeteers mingled together on stage, greeted with an ovation and ululation ringing the rafters like I’d only once ever heard before — in 1964 when the Beatles played live in the Boston Garden.
However, as I stood to cheer with the others, I could not help but notice how many of the performers were people of color. In a moment’s darkness I hoped with all my heart that no incident would find any one of them pulled to the side of the road in what I still think of as our fair Cities.
Leaving the Orpheum surrounded by parents and little knee-highs dressed in their theater togs (“That’s the longest he’s ever sat still,” beamed one red-haired cherub’s mom), I could not help but wonder what their world will be like when they escort their own offspring to see the king.