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    Tags: The_Lion_King_The_Musical, Liverpool_Empire_Theatre, Sarah_OHara

    Review: Lion King - The Musical



    The year was 1997.


    I was a rather talkative, Disney obsessed seven year old (and to be honest I’m still the same at 23). One Saturday morning, amidst the sea of books and colouring crayons, I stopped and gazed in wonder at what was before me. A musical based on The Lion King was opening in the West End. Now finally seventeen years later I have had the chance to experience the show that has left audiences breathless for more than a decade. My seven year old self had wished upon a star and has finally had her dream come true.


    The story itself is of course well known throughout the world. Countless generations have laughed at Timone and Pumba, cried their hearts out when Mufasa died and speaking of Mufasa, can only say his name like the Hyenas do… MUFASAAAAA.

    So what makes The Lion King: The Musical familiar, yet leaves you feeling as if you were watching it for the first time? There are only three words to answer this question: Perfect creative direction.


    Director Julie Taymor’s decisions to use puppetry, traditional African dance and shadow theatre are only the tip of the Pride Rock Mountain. Combined with incredible performances from the cast and the creativity of the design team, this is one show you will want to see all over again. It’s The Lion King story, but each tour offers something completely new and original to the tale, with the current Liverpool residency one of the best productions yet. Now where to begin? Well where else: The Circle of Life.


    Never has the opening of a theatre production left me in tears of joy within the first five minutes. Luckily I was wearing waterproof mascara, as this was not the first time in the show I shed a tear. The sunrise at the back of the stage was met with the sounds of Gugwana Dlamini’s atmospheric, powerful and impressive voice echoing throughout the auditorium as she sang the opening melodies. This led into the one of the most magical scenes I have ever witnessed, with performers on stilts creating majestic giraffes whilst puppet elephants and other creatures from the animal kingdom descended upon the stage. I won’t reveal how they get there, but the creative team have definitely made use of their surroundings in the most imaginative ways possible, to which they certainly need congratulating. All I know is that it was overwhelmingly spectacular.


    These slick scene settings were eye-capturing throughout, with the ensemble creating the Serengeti planes and the jungles through dance and movement. Mufasa’s death in particular (although exceedingly upsetting) was well-staged using moving animal pictures to represent the buffalos and strobe lighting to heighten the shocking impact of his fall. Even though I was prepared for this moment in the story, the collaborative works of designers such as Richard Hudson, Donald Holder and Rick Sordelet made me feel as if I was a child witnessing it for the first time. I was left speechless, saddened but in awe of the realistic recreation of the fight for survival. I have nothing but applause and admiration for the sheer amount of thought that has gone into every detail of the lighting, sound, set and choreography. Look out for the transition from young Simba to adult Simba during ‘Hakuna Matata’ – never has ageing and the passage of time looked so fun.



    Populating these mesmeric settings is an unbelievably talented cast of primary characters and ensemble performers. Every actor, singer and dancer gave more than one hundred percent throughout and I could truly feel their love that night for the musical. As usual though there are a few cast members that need a special mention for their stunning characterisations, starting with personal favourite: Scar.


    It’s no secret that I’m a fan of villains. They always seemed like so much fun no matter how evil or scheming they may be. Though I will always have a soft spot for the humourous drawl of Jeremy Iron’s Scar in the original film, Stephen Carlile was quite simply brilliant in the role.  He played the treacherous lion like it was his own, slowly walking the stage like he owned it whilst his well-spoken accent had all the traits of a classic Shakespearean antagonist. Plus his slinking body movements were similar to the prances and leaps of a lion that was waiting for his prey. It was spine chillingly good and he was an absolute thrill to watch.


    Speaking of prey, Scar’s enemies came in the form of numerous characters but not more so than Simba and Nala. The two young actors who played the duo initially were wonderful. It takes skill to sing and operate giant puppets (as in ‘I just can’t wait to be King’), so to take on this responsibility was a giant task that they both made look like a walk in the park! These are certainly two young performers to look out for in the future.



    In the second half of the show, older Simba and Nala were just as marvellous, played respectively by Nicholas Nkuna and Liverpool’s own Ava Brennan. Ava’s facial expressions and tone of voice during the song ‘Shadowland’ demonstrated all the desperation the lionesses faced in the hunt for food, whilst her singing was second to none. Fusing soulful resonance with power ballad emotion, I could really feel Nala’s sadness and determination to better their situation. Similarly Nicholas’ Simba showed an excellent transition from cub trying to hide his past to the future king. The uncertainty of Simba’s situation was captured in the quick changes from happiness to confusion, highlighted by his physicality. Hunched over as the insecure Simba, his body gradually stood tall as Simba made that move to claim his throne, whilst his vocal range from low to high pitches was an audio sensation during ‘Endless night’. His singing was something endlessly brilliant to behold.


    I could mention the hilarity of Meilyr Sion’s Zazu who had me in tears of laughter, or the outstanding puppetry work of John Hasler and Lee Ormsby as the lovable Timone and Pumba, but I quite simply do not want to spoil the excitement that they bring to the stage. Fun for audiences young, old and anyone in between, these three performers are the furry heart and soul of the humour that runs throughout the drama.


    It can be said that this has been one of the more difficult reviews to write as I could talk all day about every little magnificent aspect of the show. The Lion King: The Musical is magic, is heart-warming and it will make you smile from beginning to end. At the Liverpool Empire until June 5th, you have never seen a production like this. Like the Circle of Life it always changes, grows and has something to please everyone. Thank you to the entire company for making my dream come true and letting me live the experience I long waited to see – I hope it continues to make other’s dreams come true for many years to come.

      Sarah's posts By Sarah O' Hara



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