25th Anniversary Studio Ghibli Concert DVD

Just got this ... this DVD features a live 2008 concert recording to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the cooperation between the Ghibli greats - Miyazaki and Hisaishi. It also served to launch the then-new "Ponyo on the cliff" movie.

Apart from Japan, it seems that no other country has released this in any form yet and I was ready to import all the way from the land of the rising sun when I saw it whilst browsing at a nearby video store. For RM29.90 (approx US$10) you get a single DVD disc and an audio CD. The region-free DVD features the full concert that was held in Budokan and broadcast on NHK. The concert is 1 hour 56 minutes long in total and features 10 songs from 9 animated features (Nausicaa, Mononoke, Kiki, Ponyo, Laputa, Porco, Howl, Spirited Away and Totoro). The other disc features nine songs - minus the encore - but on a more audio-friendly CD format for listening in the car. Why no encore? Well, it IS pushing the limits of the audio CD format because at nine tracks it already reached the maximum 80 minutes and the last song would definitely never be able to fit in there and remain red-book compliant.

With the source recorded in high-definition, the DVD presentation thankfully is properly down-sampled to NTSC resolutions with no signs of ghosting/interlacing seen. Compression rates are kept pretty low , averaging 6.74Mbps, with the entire concert taking up the 5,577MB of a double-layer DVD (totalling 7.6GB). Compared to the Japan R2 release which was split onto two dual-layer DVDs, the entire concert is squeezed onto a single one here so a sacrifice had to be made - the audio is limited to stereo Dolby Digital only (Japan R2 has 2 channel PCM stereo and 5.1 DD surround) but once again, it has been kept at a high bitrate of 320kbps thus maintaining the clarity of dynamics of the concert extremely well.

Other than the concert, the two specials are also available on this disc - "Making of the concert" which lasts 21 minutes and "The Big Screen" running for 17 minutes. The making video shows the amount of work done in preparation for the event which included 200 members of the orchestra and a 400-person choir. Although insightful and informative, this video is in Japanese only with no subtitle options. There is only a sprinkling of spoken dialog though so it doesn't really affect much - most of the important stuff (names, venues etc) are hard-subbed as part of the video.

The big screen video basically repeats what was shown on the projection screen at the Budokan venue during the concert. Various clips from the animated features are shown during the concert and this video allows you to see the entire content without interruption and camera changes. All clips from 10 songs are combined as one long clip here.

Overall, its great that you can purchase this recording outside of Japan but the only dissapointing thing is the lack of subtitle options on the extras. Online purchasing may still be available here but at a higher price .. so find a store to buy it from instead if in Malaysia. Options to buy the Japanese R2 release is still available at CDJapan or Amazon. For those with HD playback, the blu-ray versions are also at CDJapan and Amazon.
P/S : I question the legality of the release but then it IS included with a license /censorship board sticker which I hope means that all royalties/duties were paid. The DVD comes with a slipcover that duplicates the same label content but with a foil effects. The audio CD also comes with a slipcover but has no label of its own. The DVD is mislabeled LOVE STUDIO GHIBLI CONCERT instead of LIVE STUDIO GHIBLI CONCERT but both carry valid IFPI numbers imprinted and embossed.

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Lion King @ Marina Bay Sands Theatre

The Lion King on Broadway in the Lion City .... ironic isn't it?

Well I caught the show on its first week run on the 12th of March (started on 3rd) at the MBS Theatre. The location is brand new and this musical is basically the grand opening attraction for the venue. Even the neighboring hotels and restaurants are heavily promoting it in Singapore.

So here's a quick review divided into parts:

The venue - Marina Bay Sands Theatre

Utilising the smaller of two theatres in the MBS, the venue can seat ~1600 guests on two levels (stalls and dress circle). Overall the venue was nice and acoustics were pretty good but the surrounds were under-utilised making audio sound very front-centric. Its not like I want to be constantly enveloped in sound but several points in the show could have benefited from a stronger surround source (e.g. the valley, stampede sequence and final battle) to give the effect of vastness.

Prop movement was fast and not too distracting except for one part where trapdoors open in the "Can't Want To Be King" sequence to release air-filled cacti - the doors swing open and land with a loud bang and breaks the illusion ... but overall the use of light and props in the show were top-notch.

The sound engineer for the night was pretty spot-on with his timing which is crucial in this show since the dialog switches often between a heavy reverb/echo to a clean speech setting. Balance between the accompaniment and singers was also very well done with each voice being heard clearly above the orchestra and was never drowned out.

The stage itself felt very cramped and tight ... as if there wasn't enough space for full movement. This is especially so in the opening sequence where the animal 'cast' felt extremely crowded on stage. Thankfully other sequences were less packed.

The cast
Weird enough (for the first time) MBS never annouced the actors playing the roles. This is pretty common for a musical and helps the audience know who is on stage. Granted that the adult cast never really changes except with the understudy, the actors that play the young Simba and Nala were unfortunately left unacknowledged. Anyways, the roles of both were surprisingly all played by Filipinos instead of Singaporeans although auditions were held at both countries. Maybe the young Singaporeans aren't talented enough??

The young Simba for that performance (afternoon 12th March ... whoever you are) was pretty good, emoted and responded well when required - and for someone to carry pretty much the first half of the show, his singing and acting was commendable (and at times amazing). Young Nala didn't have much parts so not much to say there.

The adult cast in the Singapore show are from various productions in the world (some from London, France and Australian shows) and this brings about an unfortunate problem of varying accents. Adult Simba had quite a heavy Brit accent during spoken dialog whilst Mufasa felt pretty uncomfortable with spoken English since his dialog was choppy at times ... it didn't hurt the performance in anyway though.

The best peformer (IMHO) was Timon who had most of the punch lines and the best/funniest songs and lines of dialog (my personal favourite when he says "This wasn't in the cartoon"). As usual, musical text is often adapted to local audiences and TLKoB is the same. During the course of the show, Timon has Singlish adaptations like "谢谢你" to thank his prop 'bush' that helps him up from a supine position and also lines like "Let it go lah". The favourite line of the performance was probably the one that went "Oh look I see a merlion" (in reference to Singapore's Merlion) and Zazu singing "Rasa Sayang" instead of "Its a Small World" during the Scar's Cave sequence Act II.

Unfortunately the worst performer of the show was adult Nala who sounded breathy and almost scratchy throughout the show. At times it almost sounded like she was trying to sing with a sore throat - and her pitch ran off pretty badly at places. "Can you feel" was spoilt since her voice was drowned out by Simba thus ruining the overall duet. Her solo in "Shadowland" was painful at times and felt as though the pitch was too low for her - her bottom notes were inaudible at times.

TLKoB in Singapore uses the edited version of the show (last changed in 2010) and has the same changes reflected in all productions around the world. One song "The Morning Report" was removed (it was written for the movie, then edited out, reintroduced in the 1997 musical, added back in the movie DVD release and then removed from the musical in 2010) and thus follows the sequence in the movie. This song established the relationship between Mufasa and Zazu but was not critical in the plot .... I was hoping it would be there though.

The love duet "Can you feel" is also shortened and the dance between Simba and Nala is removed (around 70 bars of music) and immediately reaches the climax of the song. The full version is still heard on the OBC recording. The ending song for the Finale also seems changed and the chorus immediately enters the line "Its the Circle of life ...." instead of chanting and building up to the ending scene. If I'm not wrong (writing this from memory is hard!) I think a reprise of "Chow down" was also added in and "One By One" had a new arrangment midway through (the recording on the broadway album is taken from the "Rhythm of the Pridelands" CD and does not reflect the stage version).

My recommendations
Those wanting to see this show before it ends its run (May 2011) should try to get seats in the stalls instead of the dress circle since portions of the show extend into the audience (opening of first and second act and Simba's escape). The middle rows of each sections probably have the best views of the incoming procession whilst the front row premium seats have the best experience in "Can't wait to be King". Arrive early and bring extra cash for souvenir purchase (really expensive though but is usual for events like these)

I'm ending this post with my favourite from TLKoB - "Endless Night" featuring the original adult Simba, the late Jason Raize.

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