Music by Elton John
Lyrics by Rice
 
directed by Julie Taymor

THE LION KING

LYCEUM THEATRE

21 Wellington Street

London WC2E 7RQ

 

Box Office: 0845 5058500

www.thelionking.co.uk

Review by Graham Powner

 

“THE LION KING” ROARS IN TRIUMPH !

 

In almost 50 year’s connection with the Theatre, and four years as Editor of THEATREWORLD INTERNET MAGAZINE, I have to confess that this is the most difficult review I have ever undertaken - there are simply not enough superlatives in the English language to describe “THE LION KING”

 

From the moment the curtain rises on the assembly of animals at sunrise at Pride Rock for the ‘presentation’ of the heir apparent (Simba) - the audience is totally silenced, mesmerised, by the unbelievably realistic display of wild-life! Huge Elephants, enormous Giraffes, graceful Gazelles - the procession seems to go on and on. It is not until the final drum crash at the end of “Circle of Life”, that the audience whoops with delight and the applause is deafening!

 

I should also confess that this review is totally biased - the reviewer being an utter, unashamed Disney fanatic! However, all the hype, and the brilliant marketing of this (former) animated feature pays off in abundance with the most spectacular and visually stunning brilliant musical we have seen in London’s West End for decades!

 

Disney’s first venture onto the Broadway, London and other stages around the world began with ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Many critics dismissed the work as just another piece of ‘Disney escapism’. Whilst ‘Beauty’ was relatively simple to translate to the stage, being a familiar ‘folk-tale, and containing ‘human’ characters THE LION KING with its ‘cast’ consisting entirely of animals should have presented Disney’s ‘imagineers’ with an almighty headache.

 

Enter Director AND designer JULIE TAYMOR who, with the addition of the most stunning head-dresses, costumes and make-up INSTANTLY AND BELIEVABLY transforms the actors into the characters they portray. These creatures are no ‘Cats’ in leotards and painted faces! Ms. Taymor is an astoundingly brilliant creator, in as much as she has a concept which weaves its’ way throughout the entire production. The choreography (Garth Fagan) is perfect for the piece, the lighting (Donald Holder) ... vividly conjuring up the sights of Africa ... but above all the brilliantly effective design of the characters costumes and masks - all bear her hallmark! Small wonder that she was the first woman to win a coveted “Tony” award for ‘Best Director of a Musical’ for THE LION KING on Broadway.

 

All of your favourites from the movie are here -

Rafiki (the wise baboon), The wicked hyenas, Scar (the evil uncle), Pumbaa (the wart-hog), Timon (the wise-cracking meercat), Zazu (the major-domo), Nala (Simba’s bride to be!), Mufasa(Simba’s father), and of course, Simba - the Lion King!

 

But there are many, many more delights - which to reveal, would be to spoil your enjoyment. Ms. Taymor uses every trick in her book - but wisely and sparingly. She draws on techniques not seen in this country for decades .... shadow puppets .... soaring birds which fill the auditorium ... a beautiful ‘flying ballet’ ... animatronics ... the use of lighting and an extremely simple ‘device’ to depict the death of The Pridelands once Scar has murdered Mufasa. All so simple - yet it takes the mind and imagination of a genius to come up with such effects - the Genius of THE LION KING is Julie Taymor.

 

I have deliberately NOT singled out any member of the (HUGE) cast - since they all played (I suspect as they were directed to?) as an ensemble. Each member of the cast has his or her own chance to ‘shine’ and they do so with a brilliance that is not evident anywhere on the London stage at present.

 

Acting-wise, for them to even approach the ‘voice-overs’ in the animated feature (which were such luminaries as James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg and Jeremy Irons) might be considered impossible. However, they don’t need to. The sheer size and spectacle of this stage version totally eclipses the two-dimensional movie and brings ‘The Pridelands’ to life before your eyes.

 

The original score has been expanded for the stage and now features fifteen musical numbers. South African composer Lebo M has created an evocative blend of African rhythms and chorales, with additional material by Julie Taymor and Mark Mancina. Elton John and Tim Rice have added three new numbers to the five they wrote for the animated film. The resulting sound of The Lion King score is a fusion of Western popular music and the distinctive sounds and rhythms of Africa, embracing the Academy award winning “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and the haunting “Shadowland”

 

Any ‘critic’ who pours out their usual ‘bile’ after seeing this production has clearly lost the ‘inner child’ which exists within us all - they should seek a good therapist.. What they will not realise is that audiences have now ‘grown-up’ - and yet not (there’s a child deep down inside all of us!)  Audiences are now demanding what they want - entertainment. Barricade scenes, riots, falling chandeliers and helicopters are a thing of the past.

 

Disney’s THE LION KING gives you what you pay for, and as always with Disney - you get VALUE FOR MONEY !!

 

THE LION KING

LYCEUM THEATRE

21 Wellington Street

London WC2E 7RQ

 

Box Office: 0845 5058500

www.thelionking.co.uk

The above video tells the interesting story of New Zealander Nicholas Afoa, who had a promising rugby career with the All Blacks until he was injured. Once he recovered, he dedicated himself to a theatre career and then nearly a decade later the 29 year-old beat 400 other hopefuls to the role of Simba in the Australian production of  The Lion King. He joined that production in 2013 and has joined the London production this month. This marks his second ever theatre role and first ever time in London.