Blatant Localism: The Lion King Is Approaching Its Final Roar

My review of one of the last performances of the Lion King. Original at VegasChatter.

The Lion King Is Approaching Its Final Roar

Looking to see the final performances of the musical, The Lion King at Mandalay Bay? Then Hakuna Matata might not be the right philosophy. Performances are selling out as the last show date of December 30th approaches and locals and visitors awaken to their last chances to see this production. In a number of remaining dates, only single tickets are available in better sections. Suddenly, an oldie is hot again. It’s been a slow walk into the sunset, and VegasChatter Editor 702Becca recently noticed an obvious decline in stock at the gift shop.

Get your adult tees, adult ball caps, pink child size caps and programs (only) here.

The theater will darken until May 13, 2013, when the Michael Jackson-themed Cirque show will premiere. During the recent Cirque Week, Cirque du Soleil representatives were very precise to note that the residency on the Vegas Strip will be very different from the current Michael Jackson Immortal show playing at the Events Center. (Time’s running out to see that, too.) The resident show will be a custom-built experience. With added attractions of a museum and a Jacko-themed nightclub. Possibly. Things change. But, obviously, the Jackson juggernaut cannot be denied. Immortal is undeniably the number one earning live production in the U.S., earning an amazing $2 million a night.

But whither The Lion King? After two and a half years, the show continued to delight even if its proudly analog production will be overshadowed by the myriad digital projections that will replace it on the south Strip. Tucked off the casino floor, The Lion King’s dominant aesthetic of gold will be stripped. MJ suggests a cooler blue and silver tone. Maybe more in keeping with its proximity to the elevators for Mix Lounge?

In its present incarnation the theater seats 1,600, hundreds less than O and Viva Elvis, so it makes sense that some major construction will be needed to create extra seats to sell. Again, Cirque Week spilled the inside gossip that the decision to close Viva Elvis was pure mathematics: X number of tickets sold multiplied by top price X. Plus, the burden of 2,000 seats to fill each night. It was not enough for landlord MGM to continue the relationship and they chose the contract option to end the production run early. Jackson is on a roll and should continue to be a winner. But, he also needs a long time to gut the space and make ready. So, goodbye to one King, hello to the King of Pop.

The Lion King debuted as a stage musical in New York in 1997, a lifetime ago in Las Vegas years. The extremely clever stage and costume design, luckily, gives it an ageless feel. But, when stacked against the technical wizardry of Beatles LOVE or KA, it could be perceived as old-fashioned.

Wondering if this was a factor in its demise, this VegasChatter writer brought along a fellow journalist, to compare notes and see if The Lion King should have gone to the elephant’s graveyard. Our opinions merged. She is still humming the songs and the set piece images still linger in both of our minds. We thoroughly enjoyed the show and our friend regrets the loss of a show with genuine appeal for the youngest Vegas visitors. The kids around us never lost interest.

Original director and designer Julie Taymor’s creation was truly original and, frequently, overwhelming clever. That impression has by no means diminished. We also agreed that the performers, while acting on borrowed time, never adopted the short-timer approach. A prime spoken directive of Cirque is that in ‘show-business’, “show always comes first.” Cute, right? But, it was a sentiment echoed by this non-Cirque show on the night we witnessed. The performers gave their all and were deserving of their standing ovation. It is interesting to note that at the finale of Viva Elvis the audience has cannily been brought to their feet to clap along with the performers – just prior to curtain call. The audience is then prepped, primed and in place to give an ovation, willing or not.

Some final statistics as an epitaph: The Lion King in Las Vegas lasted 1,078 performances, for 1.4 million patrons. And Timon and Pumbaa will have said Hakuna Matata more than 38,000 times. For those who can’t make it for the last week in town, the original continues to run on Broadway in New York and a touring company maintains a rigorous schedule around the country.

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