Music/Lyrics: Elton John &Tim Rice
Book: Roger Allers &Irene Mecchi
Director: Julie Taymor
Reviewer: Stephanie Rowe
The Lion King first came to the public’s attention in 1994 as Disney’s 32nd full length animated feature and brought with it a return to form for the House of Mouse. Following the unprecedented success of Beauty and the Beast being turned into a lavish stage musical, Disney Theatrics turned their hand to The Lion King. Under the deft direction of Julie Taymor the show opened on Broadway in 1997 and a UK production followed suit in 1999 where it has been running in the West End ever since. Unlike Beauty &the Beast, The Lion King brought a new visual style to the stage, using a combination of tribal design and Japanese Kabuki Puppetry to bring the Savannah desert to life.
Here In Manchester on its first ever UK tour, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, A Lion cub born to parents Mufasa and Sarabi (reigning monarchs) Unfortunately for Simba his evil Uncle Scar is Jealous and hates the fact that Simba is now the next in line for sovereignty. Scar with the help of three rather dense Hyenas sets out to destroy the family unit and make the Savannah his own.
Staying true to the original animated movie and using all the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, additional music helps enforce traditional African culture with music from Lebo M and Hans Zimmer, Taymor also brings a striking portfolio of costumes to the production, from the elaborate animal puppets which with a breathtaking parade open the show to ‘The Circle of Life’ to the more tribal styling’s of the Lion’s masks, the attention to detail is staggering and would need a second visit to take in every aspect. Richard Hudson’s set design evokes the warmth and depth of the Savannah with blistering brilliance and combined with Taymor’s costumes and Garth Fagan’s energetic yet delicate animalistic choreography makes The Lion King a show with production values that will make even the biggest of producers green with envy.
Auden Barnes and Donica Elliston as Young Simba and Nala are instantly likeable; they command the stage with their roguish charms and bound around the stage with endless energy. Cleveland Cathnott as Mufasa gives a strong and solid performance of majestic proportions, while Stephen Carlile brings a touch of Machiavellian villain to Scar. Nicholas Nkuna brings great depth to the older Simba with a touch of adolescent arragance. Comedy comes from excellent portrayals from John Hasler and Mark Roper as the larger than life Timon and Pumbaa while Meilyr Sion as Zazu flamboyantly shines throughout.
Taymor’s direction is strong, and there are plenty of magical moments throughout to leave you in awe including a heartbreaking stampede and a powerful enlightenment sequence written and performed through the stars. Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs are as catchy and as memorable as when we first heard them nearly twenty years ago.
The Lion King is a stage phenomenon, a perfect introduction to live theatre for younger audiences yet totally engrossing for older theatre goers, you have plenty of time to catch the show in Manchester as it runs until April, it roars above its competition and proves without a doubt that it really is the mane event.