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    It's no cartoon 'Lion King'

    A ban on children under 5 will remain, even for this show. "It's so real," a TBPAC official says.

    By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 12, 2002


    TAMPA -- It's the Lion King, so of course you can take your 4-year-old to see it, right?

    Think again.

    When the Lion King musical comes to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in December, children under 5 will not be admitted.

    The Performing Arts Center is sticking to a longstanding policy to exclude small children from its Broadway Series of shows. The policy may not be new, but it's coming as news to a lot of parents as they receive their Lion King tickets in the mail and see a note reminding them of the ban on children under 5.

    The switchboard at TBPAC has been lighting up with complaints.

    "But it's a kids show," parents say time and again.

    No, it's not really, says Shannon Conner, a senior publicist for TBPAC.

    "The Disney movie is very different than the musical," she said Wednesday.

    For example, Scar, the uncle who kills Mufasa, the lion king, and tosses the cub Simba out of the kingdom, is scarier in the musical, she said. And so are those dastardly hyenas.

    In one scene in the movie, Scar, with his evil grin, approaches Simba's mother and says, "I'm going to find me a new queen."

    In the musical, the scene is more violent. Scar approaches Nala, the young lioness and friend of Simba, and says, "I'm going to get me a new queen." Scar jumps on Nala and the two fight.

    The scene is especially disturbing on stage because the actors have tall headdresses, Conner said.

    "When you're watching a cartoon, it is very animated and surreal," she said. "This is real people. It's not like Blues Clues where actors wear big costumes and they look like a dog. These actors actually look like people with big headdresses on. It is so real."

    The Lion King has been a blockbuster hit for TBPAC. So far, 96,000 tickets -- priced from $24.25 to $133.25 -- have been sold for the musical's run from Dec. 13 to Jan. 26.

    Customers were told when they bought their tickets at the box office about the policy, said Conner. However, TBPAC is offering refunds to parents who request it.

    While age restrictions are not widespread, some theaters do have similar policies. For example, the Shubert Theatre, Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the Cadillac Palace Theatre -- all in Chicago -- do not allow children under 5.

    TBPAC's board of trustees enacted the policy five years ago because of disruptions at shows, such as crying babies and restless kids.

    "The policy was put into place for the enjoyment of all our patrons," Conner said. "What people are getting upset about is that we are making a decision for them, that they can't bring their children to a show. It is important for people to remember that when they bring a child who isn't old enough for a 2 hour and 45 minute show, then they are making a decision for all those people sitting around them."

    The policy applies to all shows at TBPAC, including Florida Orchestra concerts. The only exceptions are Kid Time and Wee Folks series, which are geared to kids.

    On TBPAC's Web page, the policy on kids is highlighted. It reads: "Children under five will not be permitted in the show. For more information, see Center's theater policy."

    "You really can't miss it," said Conner.

    Still, many do.

    "People miss stuff," she said. "We've had people call us and say, "I'm on your Web site, and I can't find where to buy tickets.' And there it is, in huge print "Buy tickets now.' "

    -- Babita Persaud can be reached at (813) 226-3322 or persaud@sptimes.com.

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