Buyi Zama (Rafiki) ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus
If you’re like me, Disney movies are the soundtrack of your childhood. While I thought I could take my rendition of “Hakuna Matata” to Broadway—it included an interpretive dance AND different voices for every character– the melody probably haunts my mother’s sleep to this day. My daughter is barely old enough to get out the words to “Apples & Bananas,” but I’m bracing for the day when she memorizes the lyrics to “Let it Go” from Frozen like every other little girl in America. (Godspeed, moms. Godspeed.)
Far be it for me to encourage these marathon single-song vocal sessions, but the music from the Lion King does bring back happy memories. When the commercial for The Lion King at the Saenger Theatre comes on TV, something comes over Edith: She freezes, her eyes widening with the look of pure awe and curiosity. It happens every time it airs, and I can’t help but daydream about a Gilmore Girls style mother-daughter bonding moment over one of my childhood favorites. Perhaps this could be a priceless moment filled with the theatrical wonders of a classic Disney movie come to life! Alternatively, it could be an expensive disaster that ends before young Simba even hits the stage.
I may be bold in my outings with Edith, but I’m also considerate of other patrons, not to mention my own pocketbook. This one called for some mom-scouting. Here’s what I learned:
- Seat Selection: The aisles are a part of the stage during several musical numbers. Edith’s in an “I’m-afraid-of-everything-where’s-my-mommy” kind of phase right now. The elaborate and enormous animal costumes that the show is known for are works of art in their own right, but if you’re holding a screaming child because said animals are within a two-foot radius of her, they probably lose their charm. If your kid is equally as skittish, you may want to opt for the balcony or a more inner seat. Just be sure you’re not too far in the middle if you think you’ll need to evacuate for a potty break.
- Preview: The story of the Lion King is really dark. Simba’s dad dies in the first act; Scar is thrown to a fiery death in the second; and there are many other references to death, killing, etc… Sure, it’s the circle of life, but make sure your child is familiar with the movie ahead of time so you can process these mature themes in the comfort of your own home… when you’re not in the middle of a live musical surrounded by 2000 other people. The show, while stunning, may also be a bit visually overwhelming for a small child. I suggest a combination hype up and preview of the show with these videos.
- Seize the Learning Opportunity: Even at Edith’s age, kids want to know how things work. Arrive early, peer into the orchestra pit, and point out the different types of instruments. At intermission, return and explain that the people holding the instruments are the same ones who are making the beautiful music for the show. (No, child! Music doesn’t just magically come from the Pandora app on Mommy’s phone! Someone actually played it!) The day after the show, explore the backstage videos and photographs. It seems counterintuitive, but dissecting the magic will only make it more magical for a child.
- Girl Power: As the parent of a young daughter, I try to look for examples of female empowerment that Edith will understand. Mother of Dragons is a little over her head… not to mention wildly inappropriate for a tiny human. In nature, lionesses raise the young, protect the pride, and do all the hunting. (Mothers of America, can I get an amen?) From powerful dancing in “The Lioness Hunt,” to Nala pinning Simba, to Buyi Zama stealing the show as Rafiki, the women of the Lion King are just as badass as their wild counterparts.
- The Eject Button: Sometimes, even with careful planning, it can all fall apart. We’ve all been there. Don’t fret if you need to pull the plug at intermission. Almost all of your childhood favorites from the movie appear in Act I and the opening song alone is worth the cost of the ticket. At the very least, you can watch the second half of the movie the next morning.
After this careful mom-scouting, it’s clear that Edith is going to have to wait for the another year or two before attending the stage production of the Lion King. It’s best for everyone involved, especially other theatergoers. The woman sitting next to me unabashedly sang every word to every song from the movie. Nothing can kill a groove like a screaming toddler at the theater.
One final warning: If you are lucky enough to have a child who can sit for 2.5 hours of live action Disney magic, there will be sing-a-longs in your home for many weeks to come… Be prepared.