We all know the story – baby lion is presented to the kingdom, is later tricked into thinking he was responsible for his father’s death, and later redeems himself by taking back the kingdom, with the help of his comedy duo friends. The Lion King is a classic Disney musical, but before you’ve seen it on stage, it’s difficult to fully wrap your head around how the film translates from animation to people acting out the part on stage – you picture animal costumes and it all sounds a bit naff. It is nothing of the sort.
It’s amazing to see how the animal characters look on stage, with stellar mask and puppet design by Julie Taymor (who is also the show’s Director) and Michael Curry. The masks are truly beautiful, and the movements are designed in a way that draws focus to the masks, which most of the time are on top of the performers’ faces rather than covering their faces. Other animals are created with the help of stilts, antelopes covering arms, and birds flown liked kites. The most impressive animal is by far the elephant – but I’ll let you discover that in the audience like I did. Trust me when I say Circle of Life is breathtaking.
The Lion King already has a great story and great music. The addition of more African style music to the stage show adds more credibility to the show, and while I can’t pretend to know which language Brown Lindiwe Mkhize speaks to the audience as Rafiki in the show – she ends the speech with “Do you understand?”, which we clearly don’t – it’s nice to see that the show is grounded in the culture, with a beautifully diverse and ridiculously talented cast hailing from all over the world.
And what a cast! Beautifully sung, danced and acted by everyone involved. Jonathan Andrew Hume and Ava Brennan as Simba and Nala are just wonderful, Nala’s song Shadowland is a beautiful moment in the second act. Timon and Pumbaa are just as hilarious as you remember them from the movie, and the hyenas are really creepy.
All in all, it’s a stunning show, and a great night for the audience. The one criticism I could make that there’s very little tension as an audience member, as we all know what’s going to happen. But that’s always a problem with stage shows based on existing works. As impressive as the antelope chase is to look at with the rolling crowds behind Simba, at the end of the day it is a young actor running on the spot, which does look a little silly.
But I’m just nitpicking. Anyone who loves Disney musicals will enjoy this. It’s one of the most popular shows in town for good reason, and it doesn’t feel dated or tired. The Lion King on stage is brilliant, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Review by Tori Jo Lau