The Lion King

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Walt Disney Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/05/1998

I guess reviewing a soundtrack to a Broadway show is made difficult when you haven't seen the show... understandable, seeing that I'm in the Midwest and The Lion King is presently on Broadway.

But reviewing this cast recording is more difficult for me because, believe it or not, I still have yet to see the movie on which it's based. (I will now pause for my contacts at Disney to break out the smelling salts.) Seeing that my daughter isn't at the age yet where she'll watch a video for more than five minutes (much less wear out a tape from repeated viewings), I haven't sat down to watch the film.

So, I guess that gives me a completely unbiased opinion as I approached this disc. And, for the most part, this disc is incredible - though I would have liked to hear more of the African music which shapes the disc.

Besides the obvious influences of Elton John and Tim Rice, The Lion King is greatly influenced by the work of South African musician Lebo M, who won a Grammy for his work on the animated film's music. His contributions to this soundtrack are quite evident in rhythm and emotion, and he also proves himself to be a talented vocalist... though I would really have liked to hear the whole song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Ah, well. (also adding a strong vocal performance is Tsidii Le Loka, the voice of Rafiki.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

John Vickery's performance as Scar is one of the most memorable, especially heard on "The Madness Of King Scar," a number which more than once reminded me of Shakespeare's "MacBeth". Pressures over managing the kingdom and living in the shadow of the murdered lion king Mufasa (played by Samuel E. Wright) take their toll on Scar, and Vickery plays the role to the hilt.

I'll admit it must be hard to scale a song written for a youthful audience to fit the glamour of Broadway, and while "Hakuna Matata" tries to change its scale, in the end it's still a song aimed at the kids that tends to annoy the adults. (I can't say I was particularly enamored with the original version, either - and it's only a matter of time before my daughter starts talking and, God help me, singing.) "The Morning Report" starts off strong, but the frenzied ending with vocals by Scott Irby-Ranniar (as young Simba) totally destroy the mood, and is the only real failure on the disc - that, and the attempt to recapture the carzed madness of the hyenas on numbers like "Chow Down," a song I have grown to hate.

One aspect I would have liked to seen drawn out on The Lion King was the source of much of the music's inspiration - the tribal beats and melodies of Africa. While I might not have understood what the cast was singing (translations are provided), it was the emotion of the performances and the harmonizing of the vocals that won me over quickly. A fine example of this is "Rafiki Mourns," in which the murdered king Mufasa is eulogized in song.

Of course, this is not to take any emphasis away from the original, Western pieces of music. "They Live In You," "Shadowland" and "Endless Night" will move even the hardest of hearts - you don't need to be watching the show or the film to feel the emotions these songs are trying to convey.

Of course, the show itself is the thing - and if the accompanying photos in the liner notes capture it accurately, director Julie Taymor is putting on one hell of a show on Broadway. (A friend of mine has supposedly seen the show the last time she was in New York - but I haven't had the chance to talk to her about it.) I'll be looking forward to catching the show if and when it travels to Chicago.

The Lion King faced two major challenges: to capture all the glory of the Broadway show on disc, and to outdo its predecessor. Judging from the performances on this album, it's safe to say they've done both.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Walt Disney Records, and is used for informational purposes only.