Lyceum Theatre, London
Having officially opened 20 years ago at the Lyceum Theatre, Julie Taymor’s production is still as beautiful and emotional as ever.
Whether it is the haunting opening sequence to the ‘Circle of Life’ or the vibrantly presented version of ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’, it is hard to deny that The Lion King has so many memorable moments visually that it is difficult to believe that it has been in the West End for 20 years.
Julie Taymor’s stunning production still has the power to move audiences in the wake of Mufasa’s death and witnessing how Simba struggles to cope with his grief and guilt, but also has plenty of fun along the way in terms of visual elements that effectively whisk audiences away to the African plains. Twenty years on from its first London performance it is certainly clear that the magic of the show still captivates audiences.
The Lion King’s simple but vibrant staging allows for so many wonderful elements to come together to create a show that still feels completely unique to any other show currently on in the West End. From Garth Fagan’s clever choreography which captures the animals movements with accuracy to Donald Holder’s gorgeous lighting that enhances every moment perfectly – particularly during the final confrontation between Simba and Scar – everything is in perfect synchronicity to enrapture audiences no matter what age they are.
But it is also the way in which the story unfolds that captures the imagination and the heart of the audience, thanks to a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi that retains the spirit of the original film but manages to offer new insight and understanding into the story. This is evident when it comes to dealing with the father and son relationship at the centre of the story, with the conversations between Mufasa and Simba proving to be particularly poignant and insightful – such as when Mufasa explains that he is only be brave when he needs to. It is consistently heartwarming and thoughtful.
Throughout it all, Elton John and Tim Rice’s music and lyrics ring out around the theatre powerfully – with the cast’s renditions of ‘He Lives in You’ and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ providing spine tingling moments that linger in the mind long after the show has finished.
The cast also provide deep insight and understanding of their characters, with Nick Afoa as Simba in particular highlighting the grief and guilt that he feels in the wake of Mufasa’s death with striking honesty. Elsewhere, Gugwana Dlamini is a delightful Rafiki, providing plenty of energy and enthusiasm for this flamboyant but intelligent character. Gary Jordan also provides plenty of light relief as the pompous (if slightly hysterical in places) Zazu and George Asprey is delightfully dry as Scar – with his delivery of the line ‘I’m surrounded by idiots’ particularly memorable.
It really is no wonder why The Lion King has lasted in the West End as long as it has. It is still as powerfully moving and beautiful to watch and feels as though it only opened in London for the first time yesterday.
By Emma Clarendon
The Lion King continues to play at the Lyceum Theatre.