I was ten years old when The Lion King was first released in UK cinemas back in 1994. I fell in love with it instantly, and to this day, it remains one of my all-time favourite Disney films ever made – something my daughter and I both share. Watching the stage musical with her last night, we shared something else too; an unforgettable experience which she is already begging us to repeat.
It is a testament to the lasting quality of this show that in its 14th year in the West End, a mid-week performance can still pack-out the Lyceum Theatre. It’s no mystery why however.
The Lion King is a genius piece of theatre, and visually, it is just spectacularly exquisite. Everything, from the set designs and choreography to the masks and costumes, compliments the other in a whirl of colour to stunning effect. There’s no need for special FX and video screens here and the production is all the better for its more simplistic approach. Each piece is designed in intricate detail with a complete dedication to the essence of the African culture and the story’s characters, which the creative team have captured perfectly. The cast have been given full trust in carrying the musical, which they do superbly, and the impact on the audience is all the more powerful for that.
The current cast are a powerhouse of talent, working their magic on the wonderful and evocative score gifted upon them by Elton John and Tim Rice. The show’s rendition of ‘They Live In You’ is a particularly beautiful moment, as are Simba and Nala’s solo numbers at the start of Act II which are two of the five new songs composed specifically for the stage production. Jonathan Andrew Hume and Ava Brennan, who play the adult versions Simba and Nala respectively, are both stand-out performers along with Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as Rafiki, whose vocal prowess is awe-inspiring. The poignant death of Mufasa is even more woeful for its climax of Shaun Escoffery’s performance in the role.
Played by Damian Baldet and Keith Brookman, it is Timon and Pumbaa who provide the comic relief, with Jacquelyn Hodges (Shenzi), Gary Forbes (Banzai) and Sebastien Torkia (Ed) as the three hyenas and Stephen Matthews as Zaza also lending a helping hand and all doing a fantastic job of it. A slightly more sinister Scar would perhaps have fared better than the pantomime-esque villain George Asprey gave the audience though.
The stage musical is by no means a carbon copy of Disney’s original animated film. The story follows the same vein and there are nods to it with the physical similarities of the characters and songs/dialogue lifted from the film featuring in there, but it is very much its own unique version with the addition of new scenes and music and the influence of the African culture which is evident in every aspect of the show, such as the African-styled chanting of the chorus, the colourful tribal robes and breath-taking choreography. The use of actors in costume to portray the animals also encourages the imagination of the audience and is incredibly cleverly done.
The award-winning West End production of The Lion King has proven itself a rip-roaring success and this is one musical which can stand tall as the pride of the London West End.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 28th February 2013