It has been over 15 years since The Lion King made its debut on London’s West End, and after seeing the current rendition at The Lyceum Theatre it isn’t hard to see why it has lasted so long.
As someone with admittedly limited qualifications for judging musical productions, I checked out the opinions of expert reviewers before going to see the show. The three I looked at all gave the show five stars, and I’d agree with that rating after seeing it for myself.
The most impressive part about The Lion King is that aside from how talented the actors and singers are, it is as much a visual spectacle as it is an auditory one. Vivid colors, unique costumes and impressive set design keep the audience engaged from start to finish.
Many of the well-known characters, like Zazu, Timon and Pumba are worked by puppeteers. While the temptation in most shows would be to watch the actor, the eyes are instead drawn to the puppets because of the skill of the people behind them.
Other animals and even plants are brought to life by the impeccably choreographed mass movements that create a swaying grassland, thriving savannah and a stampede of wildebeests on stage. The drying of a watering hole was done creatively yet simply by pulling a light blue tarp through a small hole in the middle of the stage.
The acting and singing were excellent. Shaun Escoffery plays Mufasa and excels at playing both a king and a father. Both young Simba and older Simba (Nick Afoa) do a good job navigating between lighthearted moments and growing pains. Rafiki (Brown Lindiwe Mkhize) is funny and wise, drawing laughs from the crowd and guiding the way for Simba.
The villains are convincing as well. Scar (George Asprey) and his trio of cackling hyenas send a shiver down the spine every time they come on stage.
The 1994 Disney film was one of my favourite movies as a child, and I was a bit worried that the musical would stray from what made the original great.
But the music was a good mix of old and new, keeping classics like Hakuna Matata and The Circle of Life while also including other songs that moved the story along in an enjoyable and catchy way.
The age range of audience members went from young to old, yet all seemed to appreciate the performance in different ways. There’s humour and messages that appeal to every age group, from Pumba’s lower brand of jokes to the advanced themes of betrayal, loss and coming of age.
It’s quite an accomplishment that even after over 15 years, The Lion King still packed the theatre on a Wednesday night. This show deserves all the plaudits it receives. It’s more than worth the price of admission, and a must-see for Londoners and visitors alike.
Photo by Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash