Newest Review: ... looked like a baby lioness surrounded by grown lionesses, full of grace and elegance. The music of the Lion King is obviously well-known... more
If you only ever see one West End show...
Member Name: DancingCopper
Advantages: Everyone will enjoy it - incredible songs and choreography
Disadvantages: It had to finish
Transferring a show from the screen to the stage is risky. If you want to produce a major show in the West End, you won't see much change from £10 million. There is no guarantee of success, critical or popular, as the Lord of the Rings demonstrated.
Turning The Lion King into a live show might, to the cynical, have seemed like the worst kind of band-wagon jumping. The combination of simple but engaging story-lines, likeable characters and perfect soundtrack have made the 1994 film one of the best-loved Disney animations. It won two Oscars and three Golden Globes and has taken over £100 million worldwide. Those are some big shoes to fill.
The longevity of the show - on Broadway since 1997 and the West End since 1999 - demonstrate this was no knee-jerk effort to hawk merchandise. So, how has Theatre been able to take something phenomenally successful and make it even more so?
To put it simply, the production takes those elements which would appear problematic and places them at the heart of the show. This means, as well as enjoying the superb narrative and music of the original animation, we join in a celebration of artistic endeavour. It would have been easy to make the actors suit up, as they do in Disneyworld parades - the kids would have been happy enough. But the audience would, at best, gone away thinking they'd seen a pale imitation of the film and, at worst, sat through two hours of pantomime horse-like dreck.
All the favourites from the film are there. The animal-aspect is represented through the physicality of the performers and use of masks. This means the people behind the animals can interact, giving greater humanity to the interaction and relationships. I found this particularly effective in the central romantic relationship of Simba and Nala. Pumba and Timmon remain a wonderful comedy double-act. Other characters are represented through a variety of performance, circus and puppet-based techniques.
As you would expect from a West End show, the manipulation of the stage is as important to the telling of the story as the characters themselves. Again, I am glad the designers did not go for a direct translation of the Pride Lands from the animation. Instead, you have a functional space, where you can see the mechanisms in operation, and where the performers themselves add the detail. How simple it is to make an actor's headwear look like blades of grass, and how effective.
Superbly designed, the costumes create a harmonious blend of humanity and animalism. They maintain the essence of the characters from the animation, but give the freedom needed for the performers themselves to create their roles. This means they are versatile enough to cope with some ambitious choreography which seems to blend aggression and passion, capoeira-like, giving it a distinctly African flavour.
The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are perhaps the most famous and successful aspect of the original film. Again, the theatre production doesn't simply fall back on these, filling the remainder of the show with light-weight fluff. You'll all be singing along to 'I just can't wait to be king'!
Hans Zimmer's contribution, sometimes overlooked, has been expanded. His collaborations with Lebo M led to two of the most haunting songs in the stage show, 'Shadowlands' and 'Endless Night'.
I knew this was going to be an amazing experience from the moment the first song began. Not since the chandelier's rise at the beginning of 'The Phantom of the Opera' has an opening song left me with goose bumps. From that first haunting cry across the Pride Lands, you'll be hooked.
Summary: Don't even read my review...just see the show!!!
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