The Lion King which was avant-garde when it first premiered in 1999, remains firmly in the 20th century but that is very much part of its charm. There’s something warm and familiar about it though knowledge of the Disney film or even Hamlet helps, but visually it is still stunning without resorting to 21st century tricks. It is a bold and brave production which doesn’t adapt to an ever changing world.
I won’t explain the story in great detail as it is well known, but it is basically a family drama about loss and redemption but this is Disney so it is bold and colourful, taking in elements from the original 1994 film (Timon, Pumba and the Hyenas for example) and African cultures for the lions and other animals. What struck me was how quickly you forget you are watching humans, all the performers have taken on their animal characters-- it feels like much more than the cartoony musical you might expect.
The choreography was also stunning, mixing traditional dance and choreography, but I felt the musical numbers lacked energy, especially in comparison with Aladdin. The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre is the introverted sibling to Disney’s gregarious Aladdin, which is all high shine and high dancing. There are no big musical numbers or even many opportunities for performers to show off their range, with the exception of Endless Night in the second half but there are enough familiar tunes, such as Hakuna Matata, to comfort the audience.
The fact that 17 years from its premiere it can still attract an audience in such numbers is testament to the fact that simplicity works. It is a beautiful and staggering production that relies on its beautiful staging rather than big stars (though I didn’t see, him Shaun Escoffery is reason alone to book tickets as his voice is incredible). I thought Nicholas Afoa was stunning (both as a vocalist and at capturing Simba’s sense of curiousity) as adult Simba in his West End debut. I enjoyed the Jareth from Labyrinth interpretation of Scar by George Asprey. I also thought making the very masculine Rafiki a female character was a great casting decision and Brown Lindiwe Mkhize is great in the role.
The highlight for me were the early ensemble scenes as you get elephants, leopards, gazelles and giraffes without being anywhere near London Zoo. It is absolutely stunning and if the high prices have put you off seeing this amazing production then do reconsider. It is worth every penny for some of the most stimulating scenery in London theatre. Do keep an eye out for the wonderful cheetah and some of the chasing scenes will make you feel like you are on safari.
Please note: Opinions expressed on the londontheatredirect.com blog are those of the relevant contributors, not of London Theatre Direct Ltd, its owners or staff. London Theatre Direct Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by contributors.