Music/Lyrics: Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina
Book: Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Director: Julie Taymor
Reviewer : Iris Beaumont
Roaring into its 15th year in the West End and currently on it’s first ever UK tour The Lion King takes pride and place for a eight week run at the Liverpool Empire. Having lost none of its magic and still looking as fresh and inventive as it did 15 years ago The Lion King is still a must see for all of the family!
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Disney have set the story in the African Savannah where a pride of lions overlook their kingdom. Mufasa tries to instil wisdom and courage into the young cub Simba – his heir to the Pride Lands, but his eagerness and sense of adventure becomes his ultimate fall. Powerless to the evil plotting and scheming of his jealous uncle Scar – Simba finds himself alone and guilt ridden after a tragic accident. He learns to survive thanks to the help from Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the windy but ever so charismatic warthog. Will Simba learn the true meaning of courage and strength and will he be able to save the Pride-Lands from his evil uncles claws… Well it’s Disney isn’t it – however that isn’t to say tears won’t be falling, as director Taymor grasps every opportunity to bring an emotional impact into proceedings including a stunning starlight scene where Mufasa appears in the stars to give Simba some much needed fatherly advice from beyond the skies.
In the rôle of Scar, Stephen Carlile gives a frightening and intimidating performance. The stunning vocal of Gugwana Dalamini as Rafiki pierces the auditorium. Nicholas Nkuna as the elder Simba is athletic and ripped and balances the naivety and the courage of the character perfectly – we are really taken on an emotional journey with him. String support is also lent from John Hasler as Timon and Lee Ormsby as Pumbaa who ring every ounce of comedy from this crazy but loveable double act.
Julie Taymor’s costume/puppet designs really are awe-inspiring, the attention to detail in the tribal markings and construction bring the Savannah to life in a full frontal assault, and you can’t help but be amazed at the ingenuity. Never are you watching actors’ controlling a puppet such is the cleverness of the design. Richard Hudson’s warm and rich colour palette for his clever and engaging set only adds to the atmosphere and brings the heat of Africa into the Empire’s Auditorium.
Gareth Fagen’s choreography adds to the whole experience – the Grasslands are brought to life swaying in the gentle breeze, birds swoop and soar above the audiences heads and the parade of animals through the auditorium add to the spectacle of the whole event. Constantly throughout The Lion King you are reminded that this is a production which is cared about, not only from the cast performing but also from the creatives and team working tirelessly day in and day out to make the magic happen – the stage is alive with a grace, elegance and refinement that you almost forget can take place in a touring production.
The Lion King is a rare musical feast filled with all the numbers you know and love and some African choral music which really add a level of authenticity to the show. If you can get across to Liverpool to see the production you must, you will simply lose yourself in the tale and leave feeling content, elated.
Runs until Saturday 5th July 2014