Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Book: Roger Allers &Irene Mecchi
Director: Julie Taymor
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
When Disney formed their theatrical division in 1993 and set their sights on the Great White Way, critics sneered and began to sharpen their claws. But when Beauty and the Beast opened the following year, the House of Mouse proved very quickly that they were a force to be reckoned with on Broadway. However as the movie it was based on was essentially written as a musical comedy, Beauty and the Beast was already halfway there. For their difficult second show, Disney Theatrical Productions chose to adapt a movie that posed a wealth of challenges, not least the fact that not one of the characters is human. Seventeen years on and The Lion King has just officially become the highest grossing musical ever, proving that such problems as an all-animal cast can easily be overcome – or at least they can when you have Julie Taymor at the helm. Director Taymor’s contribution to both The Lion King and subsequent modern theatre cannot be understated and here her talents are presented faithfully and impressively.
Productions of The Lion King on Broadway, in London and all over the rest of the world have been universally and deservedly praised. But when many tours severely slash their budgets in comparison to the London run (j’accuse Spamalot!), does Disney bring all of their trademarked magic to the provincial theatres? The answer to this is a triumphant ‘YES’.
When they could easily trade on brand recognition, Disney instead has put together a simply stunning touring production. With the small exception of the mechanics of Pride Rock, everything here is as it is in the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End, and this production retains all of the eye-popping spectacle and wonder of the original. The story’s roots in animation are easily forgotten as you are transported to a Savannah designed beautifully in the style of traditional African art and crafts. Goosebumps are guaranteed as beasts of every size honour their new prince in the opening sequence. Toes will tap as a warthog and a meerkat introduce their relaxed life motto. And heartbreak is unavoidable when the dust settles after the wildebeest stampede. Every single technically accomplished sequence is faultless while retaining the power and humour of the piece.
The cast are superb without exception, but special mention must be made to Bradley Morton and Leah Schoburgh who played young Simba and Nala for this performance and who were a real cut above the usual child actor. Kwesi Jeffers stepped in to seamlessly understudy Mufasa while Meilyr Sion somehow manages to make it acceptable for Zazu to be Scottish (helped by some wittily rewritten gags). Christopher Colquhoun’s Scar is an excellent mix of imposing and effete, Hope Maine as adult Simba stops the show with his ‘Endless Night’ and of course Dominic Brewer and Lee Ormsby are as hilarious as they should be as Timon and Pumbaa.
Sound, lighting, costumes, scenery, puppets, special effects – they are all fantastic. Superlatives do not do justice to the professionalism on show here and words cannot convey the spectacle that unfolds before your unbelieving eyes.
If you have never seen The Lion King on stage, do whatever it takes to experience this mind blowing phenomena. And if you have already seen it, why on earth aren’t you going again? Sheer theatrical perfection.
Runs until: 1st November 2014