Music: Elton John, Lebo M, Mark Mancina and others
Lyrics: Tim Rice and others
Book: Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Director: Julie Taymor
Choreographer: Garth Fagan
Musical Director: Jonathan Gill
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
The Lion King is a massive theatrical blockbuster born from a collaboration between showbiz heavyweights Tim Rice and Elton John and includes the Oscar-winning song ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ The stage production has generated revenue amounting to billions since its Broadway debut in 1997, out-grossing some of cinema’s most successful films and it is reputed to have been seen by more than 70 million people worldwide. Billed as “the largest theatre production ever to tour Europe and the UK”, Disney’s production of The Lion King fills 23 trucks, has 52 performers, and more than 700 detailed costumes. The Alhambra Theatre is hosting the show for seven weeks, which are the only dates in Yorkshire.
The story centres upon Simba the lion cub, who embarks on a journey to become King of the Pridelands after the death of his father, Mufasa, portrayed by Cleveland Cathnott. On the way, Simba loses his sense of self and has to be helped to rediscover his destiny. The villain of the piece, with his own regal ambitions, is Scar, played with an oily charisma by Stephen Carlile.
Richard Hudson’s scenic design, lit by Donald Holder and enhanced by Steve Canyon Kennedy’s sound design, creates a colourful, atmospheric and ever-changing theatrical space, which includes depictions of the African savannah, setting sun, starry night sky, raging river rapids and wildebeest stampede. Particularly impressive is the apparition of the ghost of Mufasa. Julie Taymor’s contribution to the proceedings is immense. Not only is she responsible for the stage adaptation of the feature film and for directing the work, she also designed the costumes, co-designed the masks and puppets and wrote additional lyrics. The masks and puppets are brought to life through the energy of the actors. Each character is distinct and different with the actors’ faces and voices never obscured in the mask design, a concept Taymor labels “the double event”. Make-up and costume convey aspects of each character’s personality or culture which contributes greatly to the human story of the production. Likewise, the choreography impressively colours the action and conveys moods.
Young cub Simba was played with cheeky charm by Jude Blake, while his future lioness-to-be, Nala, gave Jessica Kesse a chance to show her talents. Both gave mature and captivating performances for ones so young. The show has lots of comedy and John Hasler as meerkat Timon, gave a performance of great comic timing and sassy character. Meilyr Sion played hornbill bird Zazu, a part requiring puppetry skills, comedic abilities and great acting talent. Gugwana Dlamini as narrator Rafiki – mandrill baboon and the only principal character not represented with a mask or puppet – was not only very amusing throughout, but she also sang beautifully in a multitude of languages and chants.
This production is truly mesmerizing, a spectacle of the highest theatrical and musical quality, where every second is filled with something big, bright, bold, intimate, warm or moving. The show immerses you in an imaginative world of anthropomorphised animals. They come tantalisingly within touching distance and have the power to emotionally touch the audience too. If you were to spend your whole life going to see musicals, you would rarely see another as good as The Lion King.
Runs until: 10 May