The Lion King - Review
13 years on and Disney’s classic The Lion King is still as uplifting as ever.
The success of Julie Taymor’s inventive and vibrant stage adaptation of the classic 1994 Disney animated film has surpassed all expectations. Year on year the multi-award winning musical reports record box office earnings and has even defied the expected Olympic-related downturn in the West End. The secret might lie in the powerful story, magical stagecraft and iconic songs that make The Lion King the must-see family show in London’s theatreland.
In the Pride Lands of Africa, Lions rule over all animals. This Hamlet inspired story follows Simba (Jonathan Andrew Hume), a young lion cub destined to succeed his father Mufasa as king of the pride. Mufasa’s younger brother, Scar (George Asprey), is seething with jealousy over Simba’s expected rule and decides to take matters into his own hands.
After disaster strikes, Simba must flee the Pride Lands, giving his evil uncle Scar free reign to cause mayhem with an army of ruthless hyenas. Now disgraced in exile, Simba is at his lowest ebb, that is until he is befriended by an unlikely paring of a meerkat and a warthog, known as Timon (Richard Frame) and Pumba (Keith Bookman) respectively. Together, the three friends pull together and fight for Simba’s right to become King of the Pride Lands.
When visionary director Julie Taymor first created the production back in 2000, she and her creative team took the much-loved film and translated it onto the stage with the help of some of theatre’s oldest techniques such as masks and shadow puppetry. They also combined this with the colour, style and aesthetic of all things African. The masks and costumes are instantly tribal-looking with grass skirts and flowing patterned materials that evoke the mysteries of Sub-Saharan Africa. What’s more, the soul-stirring sounds of the African arrangements sit perfectly alongside Elton John and Tim Rice’s anthemic pop numbers. The opening number The Circle of Life has to be one of the most magical moments that can be experienced in theatre, as breathtaking animal puppets make their way down the aisles of the Lyceum Theatre’s auditorium. Cheetahs, giraffes and even elephants descend upon the audience inducing cries of glee and wonder.
The opening number The Circle of Life has to be one of the most magical moments that can be experienced in theatre.
The Lion King’s 46-strong cast plays everything, from vultures circling a carcass to exotic flora and fauna of the jungle, with balletic grace. Simba, played on this occasion by Jonathan Andrew Hume, leads the company with a strong stage presence and a smooth vocal performance. He is however, matched at every turn by the deliciously sinister George Asprey playing the jealous brother Scar. Asprey’s rendition of Be Prepared is almost pantomime villain like, as he jumps around the stage with an army of hyenas marching to his beat. The clownish double act of the now infamous Timon and Pumba is performed with mischievous assurance by both Richard Frame and Keith Bookman -especially when meeting Simba for the first time and introducing him to their life philosophy of Hakuna Matata.
Richard Hudson’s set design has stood the test of time, managing to evoke the atmosphere of Africa with the simplest and boldest of brush stokes. Pride Rock rises out of the stage with silent majesty and a stampede of wildebeests seem to charge straight at the audience, but it is the rising of the large savannah sun that is the real coup de theatre. The Lion King is an unashamed large spectacle that embraces the use of vivid and bold imagery. However, it is not at the expense of the story that still manages to thrill, excite and ultimately uplift the audience’s spirits.
It is not surprising that The Lion King is the owner of six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards and has been seen by an astonishing 50 million people worldwide! This epic and universal story is a perfect blend of style and substance, allowing every member of the family, whether young or old, to be transported to a magical kingdom of talking lions, singing baboons and dancing antelope. A celebration of life and the power of theatre, book tickets today and if you’ve already been - go again!