By Clémentine Pruvost
Picture: Dewynters Photography
Opened in the West End since October 1999, The Lion King is a delight for all ages. Old and young have roamed the halls of the Lyceum Theatre in sheer joy. But is it really a show for everyone?
From the very first note of the opening number, I started to have goosebumps all over. Then, Rafiki started singing and I was on the edge of my seat. This show, these songs, this story mean so much to me. They remind me of a time in my life where I was surrounded by loving friends and even though the world was going crazy – and it still is – I was singing, dancing and acting through this musical with them. And now all these years later, I finally had the chance to see the real thing, live on a West End stage. I must admit that my expectations were quite high.
Visually, The Lion King is mind-blowing! The costumes, the sets, the lighting… Everything is designed to be spectacular and it is! But more than that, the actors themselves blew me away. I had been listening to the cast recording for ages and it still exceeded my expectations. I should have known that, of course, it was going to be amazing. I live for good harmony and ‘Circle of Life’ has got all the harmonies I could ever dream of.
I strongly recommend sitting in the stalls if you love the show as you will have the amazing experience of having the cast walking past you on their way to the stage during the opening number. At that point, I did not know where to look, so many things were happening all at once! So many colours, so many sounds… What a great way to start the show!
However, my personal impression is that this musical relies too much on visual effects. Don’t get me wrong, the singing was amazing and the actors were brilliant but the acting seemed sometimes quite lazy as if they made no real effort between songs. It felt flat. Fortunately, the child actors compensated with their endless energy. Young Simba and Young Nala had great chemistry and an incredible stage presence.
‘The Stampede’, ‘Mufasa’s death’, ‘Simba Confronts Scar’, amongst other numbers, are some of the musical numbers which are the most impressive visually – moving sets, flashing lights – a true feast for the eyes! And the ears, as it goes without saying that every single singer in that show does an amazing job.
Of course, we can’t talk about The Lion King without talking about the costumes. People often talk about the lion costumes and their masks but personally, one of my personal favourite costumes is Zazu’s. The derby hat and the butler’s uniform perfectly fit the character and its “Englishness”. I really loved the puppet and the apparent simplicity of it when, in reality, it is one of the most complex puppets of the production. The actor playing Zazu must use both hands to animate him: one hand controls the neck and head while the other controls the rest of the body, including the wings. The beak can be moved and the actor can also make the eyelids blink.
The actor playing Timon wears a green all-in-one suit, a green wig and green make-up. All of which can seem off-putting at first but actually, it makes him blend in the background so that the audience can focus better on his Timon puppet. This helps in making the illusion even more real!
The Lion King musical is not very different from the animated film. The storyline remains the same but more songs have been added. I have a soft spot for Zazu and his song is one of my favourites from the cast recording. So, I was very disappointed when I realized ‘Morning Report’ had been cut from the show.
At the end of the day, I had a wonderful evening at the Lyceum Theatre and it seemed that everyone around me did as well, if the standing ovation is to be believed. Nonetheless, I was left with the feeling that this musical was made to appeal to a young audience. It is, after all, a Disney show.