The opportunity to revisit, and re-review The Lion King, is a pleasant task. But this reviewer was not quite prepared for the evening of sheer joy that occurred at the Lyceum Theatre last night.  Anyone suffering from eevn a moment of cynicism could do well to spend a couple of hours consumed by the Disney magic of The Lion King.

The Lion King is a sparkling musical masterpiece, Disney entertainment at its very best, and it remains one of the best tickets in the West End due to the untarnished discipline of this entire cast and crew.

the lion kingFrom the very moment the show commenced, and we witness the cast of animals all in procession to the stage, giant elephant and all, to the strains of the Circle Of Life, the audience spontaneously burst into rapturous applause. It is not the only time during the performance of The Lion King that this occurs.

Is the shows success due to its impeccable design and ingenuity?  The masterful use of puppetry (Michael Curry) and images? Is it’s true success due to Elton John and Tim Rice’s catchy and effective soundtrack, supported by tremendous scoring and sound design? Perhaps it’s the grand scale of the sets and the awesome lighting plots (Richard Hudson and Donald Holder) that so effectively transport the audience? Is it the detailed and masterful adaptation of the immensely successful film version (with additions by Mark Manina)? Is it the economical script by Irene Mecchi and Roger Allers filled with humour and high drama? Perhaps the true success of The Lion King on stage may be due to the monumental achievement and vision of Julie Taymor, the original shows director?  I suspect that it is all of these things combined that amount to The Lion King selling out it’s performances in the West End every night in a very large and impressive Lyceum Theatre.  It remains one of the most successful shows, not only in the West End, but around the world… even after all of these years.

the lion kingTahalia Colbourne and Theo Grant, as the Young Nala and Young Simba, almost steal the show.  Their confidence and energy fill the stage.  When Sean Escoffery (Mufasa, the tribe leader) wraps his long arms around the young Simba, after repremanding him, the whole audience seemed to receive a group hug of forgiveness, such is the warmth and charisma of this talented actor.

George Asprey as Scar relishes the role and fills it with disdain.  While he may not have the menace of other interpretations, his laconic wit is very much to the for.   Ava Brennan as Nala is all strength and passion, and yet all heart as well.  Her interaction with Simba (Khaya Maseko stepping in for Nichalos Afoa) was gennuinely moving.  His energy and warmth were infectious.

the lion kingHoward Gossington’s Zazu is sheer delight.  The ease with which he plays the roles of actor and puppet belies the difficulty of his task.  While locked in a cage and mournfully singing “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”, Scar asks him to sing something a little more cheery, to which Zazu responds with an energetic, “Let It Go, Let It Go….” and the audience are in rapturous laughter.  Such are the cute contemporary references throughout the script.

After such a long and successful run The Lion King could seem out-dated, when perhaps comparing it to newer productions like perhaps Matilda, but it is not at all; it’s ‘Disney wattage’ seems to shine just as brightly brightly, in vivid hues, and its themes are even more relevant and important then ever before.

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize plays her Rafiki with great depth and subtlety.  She underpins the entire show with importance; drawing us in with her wonderful comic timing and impressive piercing voice.

Richard Frame and Keith Brookman, do steal the show with their double act of Timon and Pumbaa. Their turns are comparable to the very finest of theatre double acts ever, fun, perfectly timed, physically adept, sharing their scenes and yet somehow commanding every moment they are on stage.  Could there be anything more irristible than watching them prance around the stage to Hakuna Matata?  A lesson for us all.

the lion kingThere are so many moments of clever and intricate choreography requiring absolute focus and commitment from the actors to accomplish its effect. The characterisations, of not just the lead performances, but the multitude of animal characters that populate practically every scene, require real discipline of movement and understanding of theatre.

When, at the conclusion of the performance, the actors step forward and take their well earned bows, finally removing their masks to reveal their faces, the audience goes wild!

It is with respect, gratitude and admiration that I list the entire cast:

SHAUN ESCOFFERY, GEORGE ASPREY, BROWN LINDIWE MKHIZE, HOWARD GOSSINGTON, RICHARD FRAME, KEITH BOOKMAN, NICHOLAS AFOA, AVA BRENNAN, NADINE HIGGIN, DAVID BLAKE, MARK McGEE, JAMILA AJADI, HAZEL CHEUKA, AIYANA GOODFELLOW, THEO GRANT, ASHTON HENRY-REID, QUINCY MILLER-COLE, KENYAH SANDY, SHAYE TEMPLE, ETIAN A ALMEIDA, JONATHAN ANDRE, CURTIS ANGUS, GABRIEL BRASILIO, YOLANDA BURKE, JANIQUE CHARLES, JORGE CIPRIANNO, TREYC COHEN, AZOLA DLAMINI, ZINHLE DUBE, JAMIE GOLDING, SANDILE GONTSANA, MAKOTO ISO, KWESI CHRISTOPHER JEFFERS, AIKO KATO, MTHOKOZISI EMKAY KHANYILE, TRAMAINE LAMY, STEPHANIE LAUGHLIN, FRANCISCO LINS, STEPHANIE TSZ MAAN LO, KHAYA MASEKO, ANDY MACE, SADIE McEWEN, MDUDUZI MKHETHI, PHUMLANI MKHIZE, DANIEL MONTEIRO, CANDICE MORRIS, MELISSA NETTLEFORD, CRYSTAL NICHOLLS, NOSIPHO NKONQA, DARCEL OSEI, KELLA PANAY, DOMINIQUE PLANTER, KAYODE DALINA, POSELETSO SEJOSINGOE, ANTOINE MURRAY STRAUGHAN, NIC VANI, RICARDO WALKER HARRIS, CONNOR WILLIAMS and NOMO YEUNG.

If you are one of the few people that has not seen the musical The Lion King, and perhaps you are not sure whether you or your family will enjoy it, do not hesitate. Just having the opportunity to sit  in such a rapturous family audience, filled with children and adults, and everyone in between, savouring every moment of the show… is worth the tickets price alone.  What pure and unadulterated joy. Congratulations to all involved.

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John Bowles
John Bowles, having started his career on Australian variety television at the age of ten, had notched up 300 hours of live national TV by the age of sixteen. As an adult he has gone on to star in many theatrical productions such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’. He has produced, directed and written for television but admits his favourite role is as presenter, and he relishes the opportunity to talk to interesting show business people and tell their stories.