THE WANAMAKER ORGAN
PART SEVEN: APPENDIX
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE – A PERSONAL VIEW
The Circle of Life? Doesn’t everyone like this song? Unfortunately, and believe me I regret what I am about to write, but I am unable to say much that is good about the lyrics of this song! Mind you, I cannot say that I like the music or its presentation either!
Left: Tim Rice; Right: Elton John; Bottom: Winning the Oscar for Can you feel the love tonight
It grieves me to think that the lyrics of The Circle of Life were written by Tim Rice and the music by Elton John, both of whom have written many better songs before this, in my opinion, and including …….
THE LION KING
I fear that that I have very little good to say about the film, The Lion King, which is where the song comes from either! I think that I must be the only person in the world that did not enjoy this film. To be fair to the film, I admit that I have seen it only once and this was on video and in my own home and not in some immense cinema complete with Surround Sound and mammoth-sized screen. Still, my dislike comes from the lyrics of the songs and the story line and not with the animation.
When people hear of my complaints about this film, they look at me as if I have just told them that I have the plague! No one actually hears me when I add that despite my not enjoying the film, I did enjoy the opening sequence of the stage version of the film!
The few that do hear me next ask: How is it that you could enjoy the opening sequence of the stage version, but not enjoy the film? The answer is simple: Julie Taymor, the director of the original Broadway production of the show!
I remember watching The Tony Awards of 1998 on television and being very impressed by the opening sequence of the Broadway production of The Lion King. The animated film had been produced by Walt Disney Productions and now the company had turned its attention to the stage.
Mary Poppins was produced on the stage by Cameron Mackintosh (Bottom Centre) in association with The Disney Company; Top Left: Film Poster; Top Right: Stage Musical Poster; Bottom Left: Prince Edward Theatre, London; Bottom Right: New Amsterdam Theatre, New York (Just for the record, I saw the musical and thought it well produced and enjoyed especially the song, Feed the Birds)
For the stage version of The Lion King, Ms Taymor presented many of the animals in the opening sequence as puppets. This proved to be very impressive. I was very taken with the cleverness in the design of the puppets and in how many glided onto and across the stage. I was also very impressed by the larger animals, which were of two puppeteers inside a huge puppet, which lumbered up the central aisle from the back of the Stalls and climbed up onto the stage. This was pure theatre and quite dramatic. It also was very clever and very entertaining. But the lyrics of The Circle of Life were still not to my taste and almost ruined my enjoyment!
Although I was impressed with what I had seen on television, it was inefficient to cause to want to see the stage production. However, and somewhat surprisingly, and somewhat amusingly, neither The Lion King nor The Circle of Life were done with me yet!
Naturally I avoided the stage production of The Lion King despite hearing glowing reports from everyone I knew that had actually seen the production.
Eventually, and inevitably, What’s On Stage announced that The Lion King was soon to open in London. This caused a great deal of excitement in the press, and in 1999, it opened with much fanfare at the relatively newly restored Lyceum Theatre on Wellington Street, which is just off The Strand and Aldwych.
When I was a child, the Lyceum Theatre had been converted into a Ballroom/Dance Hall/Palais de Danse, as such establishments were called. I remember that Oscar Ravin and his Band were the house musicians during the 1950s.
Click here to hear The Oscar Ravin Band of the 1940s
Click here to hear The Oscar Ravin Romany Band of the 1930s
Between 1951 and 1968, the Ballroom was also used for the staging of the Miss World Contest. In addition, it was one of the venues used for the BBC Television Series, Come Dancing (1949-1998), which is the forerunner of the programme, Strictly Come Dancing, in the U.K. and which has been licensed in forty-two countries by BBC Worldwide as Dancing with the Stars.
My mother’s youngest half-sister used go dancing most Saturday evenings at either the Lyceum Ballroom or at the Astoria Ballroom on Charing Cross Road in the early to mid-1950s. She always seemed to enjoy herself and met many of her boyfriends at these places including her future husband.
The Kinks captured the atmosphere of Dancing at the Palais with the song, Come Dancing
THE LYCEUM THEATRE
The Lyceum Theatre London
A number of theatres were built on or around the site of the present theatre with the first being built in 1765. For people interested in theatre, and in particular those who are interested in theatres themselves, the Lyceum Theatre holds an importance place in the history of West End Stage.
The current theatre opened in 1834 as the Theatre Royal Lyceum and English Opera House, and over the years, a number of famous thespians have trod its boards, as they say! Such great actors and actresses as Miss Ellen Terry, Tyrone Power Sr., Henry Irving, Edwin Booth, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Miss Sarah Bernhardt and John Gielgud have appeared here to name but a few.
Top Row, from left to right: John Gielgud, Henry Irving, Tyrone Power Sr. & Mrs. Patrick Campbell Bottom Row, from right to left: Edwin Booth, Sarah Bernhardt, John Gielgud as Hamlet, Miss Ellen Terry and Miss Terry with Henry Irving
When Henry Irving owned the Lyceum Theatre, Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, was his personal assistant and the theatre business manager, a post he held for twenty-seven years. Although it is said that the character of Count Dracula was based on Henry Irving amongst others, and despite it also being said that he was perfect for the role, Mr. Irving never agreed to play the part on the stage of the Lyceum Theatre.
The theatre closed in 1939 and plans were drawn up to demolish it and build a road through the site. After the Second World War, these plans were dropped, but the theatre remained empty until 1951 when it was converted into a Mecca Ballroom and was the site of the Miss World Pageant from 1951 until 1968.
Eric Morley (left), founder of both the Miss World Pageant and BBC-TV Come Dancing, with contestants of the 1950s
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Ballroom was used as the venue of a number of POP Concerts and television broadcasts. Artists such as The Grateful Dead, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Clash, The Police, Queen, Culture Club, Genesis and U2 performed here.
Top Row, from Left to Right: The Grateful Dead, Emerson, Lake & Palmer & Bob Marley et al ; Middle Row, from Left to Right: Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Clash and The Police ; Bottom Row: Queen, Culture Club, Genesis & U2
In 1968, the future of the building was once again threatened, this time by the Greater London Authority who hoped to redevelop the area. However, as the proposal involved a number of London’s Theatres, the Save London Theatres Campaign was formed by Equity, the Musician’s Union and Theatre Owners, which succeeded in bringing about the abandonment of the plan.
In 1973, the theatre was granted Grade II listing with recognition of the interior, which still retained a substantial amount of the work of Bertie Crewe, the theatre architect. In 1904, he rebuilt the interior of the theatre in a richly ornamental Rococo style while retaining both the façade and portico of the 1834 building.
In 1986, the theatre was closed and was rarely used until 1996 when it was restored to function once more as a theatre and has a seating capacity of 2,100. The restoration included a large orchestra pit so that musicals and opera might be produced there.
THE LION KING & ME CONTINUED
I was very happy to see the theatre reopen and hoped to have an opportunity to go inside and see the brilliantly ornate interior designed by Bertie Crewe and hoped to do this at my first opportunity. Unfortunately, I was not in London when productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Oklahoma! opened there.
In 1999, it was decided to bring the stage version of The Lion King to London. I was saddened to learn that the Lyceum Theatre was found to be the ideal venue for such a lavish production. I knew that this would mean that this musical play would have an extensive run at the theatre and, as a result, the theatre would be off limits to me as long as I could not face seeing it!
I remember that in 2002 when I was visiting London, I decided that it was time that I went inside the Lyceum Theatre and look around. The thought of having to watch The Lion King did not fill me joy, I am sorry to say! Perhaps the management would take pity on me and allow me to go inside just to look! You never know your luck ! And so I decided to ask! Why not? The worst thing that could happen was a refusal.
I went to the theatre box office and asked if it might be possible to take a look inside the theatre. I strung them a long tale about being a visitor and wanted to write about the building on my website (which I am now doing!) since it was a theatre of some significance and with a long history (all of which is true!). Although the staff was pleasant, they said that they were not able to grant my request, and suggested that I buy a ticket to see this great show and see the theatre this way! This suggestion did not sit well with me, I fear.
As it was not a busy time, all three booking clerks on duty began to try to persuade me to purchase a ticket. The happy looks on their faces quickly turned to horror when I told them exactly what I thought of the film of The Lion King. Sadly, they did not hear my retelling of my delight of the opening sequence of the stage show however!
These poor people could not believe their ears! Just then the manager came through a door and into the foyer and heard some of my discourse. He too was obviously horrified at what he heard, but he was evidently undaunted by them! He entered the conversation and eventually boldly made an offer to me that actually was appealing.
The manager said that should I buy a ticket and NOT be enchanted by the performance, he would gladly refund my money! Surely he was jesting! I quickly thought about his offer and realised that it would indeed allow me to enter the theatre and see the decoration, which was exactly what I wanted. Since I was certain NOT to enjoy the musical, I could not but agree. However, before forking over my money, I had the manager repeat his offer, which he did. And so an agreement was made between the manager and myself and a ticket was exchanged for money and I happily left the theatre!
That evening, I took my place in the Circle after roaming around the theatre and examining the decor, which I found to be a remarkable. I sat quietly and waited with the audience to calm down and for the musical to begin. The place was filled with mothers and fathers and their children who were overly excited at the thought of seeing the show. Although I did not relish the thought of sitting amongst gangs of kids, I had to remember that the show was aimed at them and not at grumbos like me!
While I waited, I remembered how much I had enjoyed the old animated Walt Disney Films of my childhood. Mind you, the last animated Disney film that I saw was The Jungle Book in 1967 when I was hardly a child! In spite of Kiplin’s story being Americanised to make it more palatable to the North American audience, I managed to enjoy a number of things about it …….. how could I not when it had both Louis Prima and Phil Harris singing and swinging!
Top Left: Rudyard Kiplin; Top Right: The Jungle Book (1942) Film Poster; Bottom: Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967)
At last, the lights were dimed and the curtain opened. A hush fell and suddenly the wailing sound of Rafiki the Mandrill burst forth to fill the auditorium as she called the animals to Pride Rock to meet the new lion cub who would soon be named. And then the animals slowly began to enter the stage area. The audience erupted into a wild applause of appreciation. And I had to agree that the graceful movements of the actors on stilts posing as giraffes and the superbly elegant cheetah were remarkable to watch.
The crowd loved it! I was impressed as the animals glided serenely onto the stage and when the elephant and the rhinocerous loped and laboured their way along the central aisle to take their places on the stage. This really was a remarkable opening to a show and one that would be hard to equal. The only thing that spoiled this spectacular scene was the song, The Circle of Life!
I have to confess that the opening sequence proved to be as exciting and as appealing as it had in 1998 when I saw it on television.
Eventually the parents of The Future Lion King moved onto the stage along with their cub. The song reached its crescendo as Rafiki the mandril took hold and lifted up the obvious doll posing as the lion cub for all to see and be named (Simba!). Everyone in the audience exploded once more into wild applause. This time I did not join them.
The opening sequence came to end with doll held hight, as the cast belted out at the tops of their voices those words yet again ……. The Circle of Life!
I was now ready to leave now! And wanted to! But then I stopped and thought. Could I escape now? If I left now, the box office clerks and manager might say that I had not been fair in making my judgment of the production. They might say that I had not given the show a fair chance to prove it would prove entertaining! And so, with much regret, I stayed.
The interval arrived and the show was definitely not pleasing me. With each minute, the story descended further into the mundane and became more and more dull. I wanted to leave, but felt again that if I did, I would be refused my refund on the ground that I had not given the show a fair shake! And so I stayed and found myself hoping that the final curtain would soon come down. I felt like screaming with frustration!!!
At last the curtain fell. I almost gave a cheer. The audience were once more wildly clapping. Feeling no shame in the slightest, I clapped one or two claps to be polite and then got up and quickly …. very, very quickly ….. moved to the end of my row, much to annoyance of my fellow audience members and ran to the exit. The usher was not ready for anyone to leave the auditorium at this point since it was expected for all audience members to remain for bows and curtain calls and perhaps yet another bout of The Circle of Life.
I flew past the usher and ran down the stairs, leaping two and three steps at a time, much to the surprise of the ushers and usherettes waiting at the landings and in the foyer. The sound of applause rang in my ears and just as I arrived at the foyer, I heard the orchestra strike up a Reprise, which spurred me on and literally catapulted me down the steps, through one of the main doors and out into the street!
The next day I went to the box office of the Lyceum Theatre. I had my ticket in hand just in case someone would want to see it. I was first in line when the office opened. I was greeted with smiles and the staff, having remembered me, asked if I had enjoyed the show. Their smiles turned to frowns of horror when I answered with a NO!
They were shocked or rather were horrified that I did not like or appreciate the show. I realised that apologises were of no value and so I got to the point and asked for my money back. This was greeted with further looks of horror! The staff went into a huddle and I was told that they would have to call the manager. Great, call the manager, I echoed and I stepped to one side to allow those behind me who were keeping their distance from me, as if I was some malodourous villain, to secure tickets.
After a few minutes, the manager came into the foyer and greeted me. He asked me if I had really not enjoyed the show. I said that I had told him and his staff the day before that I would not. I said that the opening sequence although interesting was insufficient to cause me to overall enjoy the show. And now, please may I have my refund?
The poor man splattered and spluttered a while and gave me some talk about not being able to do this. It was the policy of this organisation and that organisation that no refunds be given. I then reminded him that I had not made an agreement with an organisation, but with him!
This stunned him for a second or two. He then added that, anyway, I had seen ALL of the show! Having realised that this would be mentioned, I said that had I left early, he would have complained that I had not given the show a fair chance at entertaining me. I reminded him that he had suggested that I buy a ticket and that if I did not enjoy the show then I would be refunded my money. And now, I would like my money back ……. please!
There was much tooing-and-froing for a while. Just as it seemed that I would NOT get my refund, the manager said that he, personally, would give me half of the cost of the ticket. He quickly added that he could do no more! I could see that this was going to be the best that I could do under the circumstances and agreed. To be honest, I felt sorry for the manager, but again, to be honest, it was his own fault for making such an unrealistic offer in the first place.
The manager disappeared for a minute or two to get his wallet. While I waited, I was treated poorly by the people in the queue for tickets. They continued to look at me as if I was the villain. Fortunately just when I was about to loose my patience with the crowd, the manager arrived with the amount agreed in his hand. I thanked the manager and we shook hands and then I walked out of the theatre.
I feel certain that such an offer will not be repeated, but I also feel certain that there will be no other customer wanting a ticket who was not already well and truly enamoured with the musical!