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The Lion King – Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

Book: Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi

Music: Elton John

Lyrics: Tim Rice

Director: Julie Taymor

Reviewer: Mark McCulloch

[Rating:5]

00b8e-lion1Adored the world over, The Lion King has taken over Edinburgh’s Playhouse as part of a two and half year tour, amassing a fleet of 23 trucks to transport the set, puppets and costumes around the UK and Ireland.

The story of the young lion cub Simba, struggling to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and his destiny to be king, the musical captures the magic of the original animated film in a way that only Disney can: the audience promised a night in the pride lands of Africa, replete with impressive set design, masterful puppetry and all this complimented by world class talent.

There is no compromise in quality between this touring production and the original West End and Broadway spectacle. Expect to re-live the iconic scenes of African animals processing down the aisles as “Circle of Life” brings the theatre alive, setting the tone for the evening ahead. The feeling of anticipation is so palpable that the audience so roused by the first number nearly rise to a standing ovation.

Rafiki, played by Gugwana Dlamini shines and puts the oft-commented concerns about this change from the iconic male baboon of the film to rest: through her portrayal she reflects the African tradition of a female being the spiritual healer and shaman. Dlamini draws the audience in through her impeccable comedic styling.

The intricate stage transitions are completed seamlessly, the audience mesmerized by the detailed puppetry and costuming which transport you from your seat to the African pride lands with ease. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is a perfect example of this. A quick curtain draw transforms the stage between each song, illuminating the vast, haunting set. The wonder continues throughout.

Famed the world over, “Hakuna Matata” allows Nicholas Nkuna to take the spotlight, showing the transition of time from younger to older Simba in the blink of an eye. His movement reflects the strong feline nature of a lion, the power in his voice echoing the animal’s roar. Ava Brennan makes her stamp on the rôle of Nala and through “Shadowland” her passion and incredible voice is strong. The Scottish touch of Meilyr Sion’s Zazu is appreciated, keeping the musical fresh and relevant.

Disney’s The Lion King does not disappoint. The promises of the original animated feature and the iconic stage production are honored fully. No excuse is made to scale back the production providing the audience with a thoroughly enjoyable night. Not to be missed.

Runs until January 2014

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