By D A. Blackburn
Detroit area Broadway fans got their first official look at a very special collaboration last Saturday night, and by any standard, it was a roaring success.
Disney’s dazzling stage production of “The Lion King” rolled back into town for a six week engagement, but this time around, rather than stopping at the Masonic Temple Theatre, it took to the stage of the Detroit Opera House. Bringing the show to Michigan’s largest stage may seem like a natural move – “The Lion King” is, after all, a massive production – but for its presenter, Nederlander Detroit, LLC, it was an unusual decision.
The company, which has presented Broadway tours in Detroit for more than 80 years, is known for programming at the Fisher, Masonic Temple and Gem Theatres. In seeking out the opera house as a venue for “The Lion King” and other future productions, Nederlander executive director Alan Lichtenstein has created a cooperative agreement which, at once, provides an exceptional home for his productions and also fortifies Michigan Opera Theatre’s mission to present world-class musical theater alongside its mainstay opera and dance offerings.
For its role in the production, the opera house provides a good showing. Its intimate house provides great views of Disney’s visual feast, and its enormous 100-seat orchestra pit is more than ample for the show’s 21 musicians. Platforms have been constructed to the sides of the proscenium to accommodate two percussionists, giving patrons a spectacular view of the African drum beat that serves as the backbone of the show’s score.
“The Lion King” is known for giving audiences an up-close and personal look at its extraordinary costuming and puppetry by sending performers down theater aisles to the stage, and in this respect, the theater works as well as any other. The majority of performers enter down aisles one and two on the main floor, but all three tiers of the house are utilized at different points in the show. One performer appears on the box level, in the show’s opening scene, and puppeteers even venture up to the balcony later, giving everyone a chance to examine the handiwork of designers Julie Taymor and Michael Curry.
The opera house’s immense stage is ideal for the scale of “The Lion King,” giving performers plenty of room to execute the show’s intricate choreography and blocking. Even with a cast of 53, and enormous animal puppets, the stage is never crowded.
Likewise, the house’s large fly space easily accommodates a host of drops and the production’s elaborate lighting.
To accommodate the amplification demands of the production, a large arch of speakers has been erected around the house’s proscenium, which proves to be the show’s lone flaw. Sitting close to the stage, it often seemed that dialogue was coming from the sides of the stage, rather than from performer’s mouths. I suspect that this issue is negated further back in the house, and all things considered, it’s a forgivable issue for such a dynamic production.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘The Lion King’
Broadway in Detroit at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. Tue.-Sun., through Jan. 6, 2008. Tickets: $17-$80. For information: 248-645-6666 or http://www.broadwayindetroit.com