‘The Lion King’ is no doubt one of Disney’s best motion pictures, in my opinion it is the best. The story of Simba has reached the hearts of billions and makes it one of the greatest films out there. This moving and heartbreaking story not only is one of my favourite movies but the megahit stage adaptation is one of my favourite musicals for the sheer spectacle and ingenious complex adaption it went through by Julie Taymor and Disney. Scotland’s answer to Broadway, the Edinburgh Playhouse is being blessed with a four-month run of this hit musical as part of it’s UK and Ireland tour. I attended the press evening of this new tour to celebrate the start of this enormous run and also to place verdict on whether it is just as good as the award-winning west end production.
When an unthinkable tragedy, orchestrated by Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar, takes his father’s life, Simba flees the Pride Lands, leaving his loss and the life he knew behind. Eventually companioned by two hilarious and unlikely friends, Simba starts anew. But when weight of responsibility and a desperate plea from the now ravaged Pride Lands come to find the adult prince, Simba must take on a formidable enemy, and fulfill his destiny to be king.
Richard Hurst’s villainy is stupendous as the iconic aspiring king, Scar. 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. The way he uses the mask is something in which I have not seen with this character in previous productions, as he uses the mask to his advantage while delivering dialogue which could come across more deviously by leaning on the lion within Scar. 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’. Which you will be pleased to hear is the original not that of the 2019 remake. This portrayal is one which is highly enjoyable and you can feel the temptation at the end of this show for kids to boo Richard for the sheer evil he ignites in Scar.
Jean-Luc Guizonne is heartbreakingly majestic as Mufasa. The presence presented by Jean-Luc and the way he manages to deliver a new scope on this iconic character is great to watch unfold on stage, especially the slight movements to portray the lion side of this character. A highlight of this portrayal is Jean-Luc’s stunning performance of “They Live in You” which creates such an emotional atmosphere within the theatre. 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 is 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 gives one of my favourite ever performances during ‘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 original motion picture and definitely the 2019 remake.
Matthew Forbes as Zazu is 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. Steve Beirnaert as Timon also supplies excellent skill and precision with puppetry as Timon. His great comic timing and familiar portrayal is a favourite for kids in the audience. The only real critique is that at points there is an issue with diction, due to Steve speaking a bit too fast. But this can all be forgiven for the ridiculous amount of talent this man has in portraying Timon perfectly through using his body with the puppet, making us barely notice him operating behind in all his green glory. Carl Sanderson also helps re-create this iconic duo as Pumbaa. Carl’s operatic vocals are very impressive, as are his comic timing on the dialogue he is supplied as the infamous farting warthog.
Dashaun Young as Simba supplies unbelievable energy, spine chilling vocals and a very accessible portrayal of Simba. Dashaun’s performance of ‘Endless Night’ and entrance in ‘Hakuna Matata’ is delivered with such passion and talent that the audience instantly lap up his version of Simba. Dashaun also successfully delivers a great emotional journey with this character which perfectly matches his devastating past shown by young Simba, who was played as equally as energetically by Theo Somolu. Theo sunk the audience’s heart during the overwhelming stampede scene. Both these actors perfectly portrayed the much-loved protagonist.
Josslynn Hlenti as Nala brings a whole new depth to the character through her beautiful slight physicalization of the lioness. Her gorgeous 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. And this character’s additional journey makes her much more within the audiences reach. Also, Stella Harris 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 Alan McHale 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.
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, Khanyisani Beato, Nigel Brown, Tau-En Chien, Mamido Bomboko Souchu, Rushand Chambers, Javier Cid, Jorell Coiffic Kamall, Tevin Daniel, Tim Driesen, Lwando Bam, Matthew Elliot Campbell, Brian Gillian, Caleaf Henson, Oraine Frater, Daniel Griffith, Alicia Hayward, Zalika Henry, Melvin Le Blanc, Zanele Mazibuko, Olivia Jones, Tara Price, Daniel Mejía, Zanele Patricia Ndlovu, Brianna Ogunbawo, Paige Peddie, Buhle Nkomo, Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy, Connor Pele Williams, Charlotte Samaroo, Sherry Tay, Maria Yim, Cristaine Santos De Jesus, Francesca Thompson and Bukiwe Zinganto.
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 musical which should be on your bucket list, whether you’re a theatre fan or not. This is the epitome of event theatre and stunningly brings to life a much loved tale.
Written by Lewis C. Baird
GET TICKETS FOR DISNEY’S ‘THE LION KING’ AT THE EDINBURGH PLAYHOUSE: