‘The Lion King’ has returned to Edinburgh after a sell-out run from December 2019 until it ended due to lockdown in March 2020. Now audiences are flocking to the Edinburgh Playhouse to finally see the end of the run, two years on. Produced by Disney and directed by the legendary Julie Taymor, the musical is the adaption of the much-loved Disney classic. Having been around for 25 years, does the musical still live up to the magic? The story is set in the African Savanna, centered around a young lion, Simba. After Scar, Simba’s uncle, murders Simba’s father (Mufasa), Simba embarks on a journey of discovery with the help of Timon and Pumba. Will he be strong enough to return to pride rock and regain his rightful place as king?
Richard Hurst returns to the production as Scar, his villainy is presented stupendously with such comic nuance that the audience lap up. The most impressive aspect of this portrayal is the physicality that Richard brings to the role. He uses the costume, walking stick and mask to transform himself, it is visually exquisite to watch. It’s something which previous portrayals of the villain have not utilized so effectively. Vocally this portrayal is also faultless, Richard’s tonality fits perfectly into this character and while singing he supplies an almost operatic sounding delivery of ‘Be Prepared’.
Jean-Luc Guizonne is also back with his heartbreakingly majestic portrayal of Mufasa. The sheer presence felt when Jean-Luc is on stage is that prominent, you would be forgiven for thinking he was a king. Jean-Luc’s performance of “They Live in You” is absolutely stunning, the emotion, the stature and his relationship with Simba is beautiful. This portrayal is one which will please fans of the movie and those who are looking for a more time to connect to this much-loved character.
Thandazile Soni continues to be staggering as Rafiki. Her vocals in the opening number ‘Circle of Life’ gives you goosebumps within the first few seconds of the curtain raising. Not only that but the way she powerfully performs the African dialogue and lyrics is impressive. Thandazile also performs undoubtedly one of the best moments in the musical with ‘He Lives in You (Reprise)’, which is bound to bring joy to all audience members. This is a fun and much more in depth performance, which many would argue as preferable to the original within the motion picture and definitely the 2019 remake.
Matthew Forbes dawns the buckbeak once again as Zazu. Matthew is utterly hilarious and brilliantly brings our favourite hornbill adviser to life through superb puppetry. Also, the almost clown persona Matthew delivers really does help bring additional humour and more depth to this character.
Alan McHale returns to the production, but this time as the hilarious Timon. Alan brings such energy, humour and excellent puppetry to the side splitting meercat. With every bit of dialogue or interaction, there is such intricacy portrayed through the puppet of Timon, you barely notice Alan controlling him. Carl Sanderson also helps re-create the iconic duo as Pumbaa. Carl’s portrayal is almost identical to that of the animation, apart from the humour is perhaps even funnier (if that was possible) and Carl’s performance is ephemeral, the warthog’s journey is even more special to the audience.
Stephenson Ardern-Sodje joins the touring production as Simba, Stephenson supplies unbelievable energy, curiosity and a sense of youthfulness to the hero lion. As soon as he jumps on stage with his entrance during ‘Hakuna Matata’ it’s clear that this version of Simba is much more physical and vocally powerful than that of the motion picture. While there are moments where Simba’s pain could be shown with more depth or power and perhaps there is a mismatch of tonality at points, it is clear younger members of the audience love this portrayal of Simba. Stephenson makes Simba so accessible to the younger audience members with this youthful and energetic portrayal. Cordell Munyawiri is superb as Young Simba, he brings Simba’s relationship with his father to life wonderfully.
Nokwanda Khuzwayo as Nala brings a sense of desperation, emotion and loss. Her emotional performance of ‘Shadowland’ just showcases why this musical is so much more than a screen to stage adaption and a whole entity of it’s own. Nala’s additional journey makes her much more within the audiences reach. Also, Lauren Simpe-Asante as young Nala gives a lovely portrayal of the young lioness setting up Nala and Simba’s relationship perfectly.
Rebecca Omogbehin as Shenzi, Simon Trinder as Banzai and Owain Rhys Davies as Ed give us the three hysterical hyenas with excellent use of puppetry and intricate physicalization. With the help of an ensemble bursting with energy, they re-create ‘Be Prepared’ spectacularly. Also a personal favourite is their rockin’ rendition of ‘Chow Down’.
The ensemble for this show have the incredibly challenging job of portraying different animals, in intricate costumes, complex puppets and also embodying a diverse chorus. The ensemble are as follows, Leandro Bam (Swing), Melvin Le Blanc, Khanyisani Beato, Rushand Chambers, Bethany Chan, Tau-en Chein, Elisa Chou, Jorell Cooffic-Kamall, Tevin Daniel, Oraine Frater, Tim Driesen (Walking Cover), Adebunmi Gabriel, Brian Gillian (Walking Cover), Alicia Hayward, Daniel Griffith, Zalika Henry, Caleaf Jamaine Henson, Cristane De Jesus (Swing), Dillan Hope Suttle (Swing), Olivia Jones, Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy (Sarabi), Fallon Mondlane (Swing), Zabele Mazibuko, Zanele Ndlovi, Buhle Nkomo, Lukin Simmond, Craig Pedro, Mamido Bomboko Souchu (Swing), Kyle Richardson (Swing), Francesca Thompson, Sherry Tay (Swing/Dance Captain), Joaquin Pedro Valdes, Maria Yim, Bukiwe Zingato and Connor Pelè Williams (Swing).
Julie Taymor directs this show bursting with inspiration taken from Africa and even sections inspired by nationalities all over the world. She not only delivers stupendously with the impossible task of bringing Irene Mecchi and Roger Allan’s book based in the African Savanah to life on stage. But she also makes it the theatrical event of the century. The show does not look tired even though it has been running since the late nineties. She also designed the costumes, masks and puppets. This director went the extra mile by making the masks herself! She ingeniously brings Elton John, Lebo M’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics to life with such colour and emotion, even more so than the film. With Garth Fagan’s visually stunning complex choreography bringing so much life to these numbers. And Richard Hudson’s minimalist yet stunning scenic design with Donald Holder’s colour appropriate lighting design gives us the perfect setting.
‘The Lion King’ is a magnificent masterpiece which brings a much loved animation to life which such creative beauty. Even after 25 years and a sold out run only two years ago, audiences still can’t get enough of this stupendous hit.
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