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
A King Among Musicals
Member Name: eilidhcatriona
Advantages: Beautiful, breathtaking, moving, fantasic music and acting
Disadvantages: A song which was not in the film
The Lion King is on at the Lyceum Theatre just off the Strand. A lovely old building, like many of London's theatres, it has columns outside and thick carpets and dark wood inside. The closest tube stations are Embankment, Temple and Covent Garden, and there are plenty of buses which go along the Strand. Charing Cross Station is also just a short walk away. Our tickets were bought just the day before, and were around £45 each, for seats in the rear stalls. Booking in advance would probably get you a better price.
Our seats were in the back row, to the left side of the stalls from our perspective looking at the stage. It appeared that the theatre was almost full, with just a few empty seats near us. This was on a weeknight in February, so it seems that The Lion King is still a very popular musical.
There is a bar just outside the entrance to the stalls, where you can purchase drinks and snacks, and also pre-order interval drinks. We bought two bottles of diet Pepsi, and while I can't remember the exact price, it was well over £5 for the two - pricey. There is also a souvenir stall beside the bar.
So, onto the show. From our seats I could see that two of the boxes beside the stage had set ups of African drums and other instruments, which was rather exciting - as a musician I've always taken an interest in what's going on in the pit, so it was interesting to see something a little different.
The opening of the show was utterly breathtaking, there is no other way to describe it. A sunrise was brought up on the back of the stage, two giraffes (actors on stilts) were slowly walking past, and the character of Rafiki the baboon began the spinetingling vocals of Circle of Life. I had goosebumps, and was so blown away I felt close to tears. I've never seen or heard anything quite like it. It's a stunning song in its recorded form, so to hear it belted out live, in perfect tune and with authentic instrumentation, was simply incredible.
But the breathtaking opening didn't stop there. The doors beside us opened, and actors started coming through. The first ones were in bright clothes, with bird on sticks which they whirled in the air. Then came the piece de resistance - an elephant, manned by four actors, one in each leg, along with a baby elephant manned by a little girl. We were gobsmacked, and felt very lucky to be so close. All the animals, even the huge elephant were so graceful. They all made their way down the aisles and gathered on the stage to finish performing Circle of Life. The centrepiece of the kingdom, Pride Rock, rose from the stage with a staircase on it for the actors to use.
The opening of the show was incredible, but the enjoyment didn't stop there. The actors were all wonderful; every single one of them made you forget you were looking at a human playing an animal, and became the animal they were portraying. Rafiki was played by a woman, who had amazing vocal talents. Her African vocals sent shivers down your spine. Zazu, the right-hand man (well, bird) of the lion king, Mufasa, was as hilarious as he is in the film: the actor playing him was dressed in black and white with a bowler hat, while Zazu was a puppet he carried - the actor was separate from the bird, but his costume and mannerisms were so appropriate to the character that I forgot I was watching a puppeteer.
Most of the animal costumes were in what you would call an African style, but the characters who were particularly comical in the film, and therefore most appealing to children, were still rather cartoonish. Zazu was one, as were the gang of hyenas: the actors playing them had the hyena swagger down to a tee. Also in this category were Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog. Timon was a puppet of almost human height, which was attached to the front of his actor. Pumba was a huge squashy costume, worn by an actor whose own facial expressions seemed like he could have successfully played Pumba with no costume!
Special mention should be made to the supporting cast. Many of these actors, as in most musicals, played a variety of roles, but they were always so graceful and in tune with the animal they were playing. The actor who played the cheetah was wonderfully sinuous and stalked across the stage; the gazelles (each actor carrying three) were light and graceful; the elephant was heavy and ponderous. In one scene the supporting cast played a field of savanna grass: they had hats on which supported a large flat plate of long grass. The stage was covered in people swaying like grass, with grass on their heads - quite clearly not a field of grass, but that was what we saw. They became that field.
The stand-out actor for me however was the woman who played grown-up Nala. Not only was her singing and acting excellent, but her movements were beautiful, so fluid and reminiscent of a lioness. Grown-up Simba was a close second, with a stunning voice, although I wasn't so keen on young Simba - the boy playing him was very good for his young age (maybe 10-12), but I don't think he had the maturity in his acting to fit with such an excellent company of actors. By contrast, the girl playing young Nala was very good, and is going to grow up to be a wonderful actress - she really looked like a baby lioness surrounded by grown lionesses, full of grace and elegance.
The music of the Lion King is obviously well-known already from the film. Personally I absolutely love it - the variety means there is something for everyone, from the moving and majestic Circle of Life, to the playful I Just Can't Wait To Be King, from the ominous Be Prepared to the ballad of Can You Feel The Love Tonight. There are some additions to the stage show, the most memorable of which is a song performed by the hyenas which I think is called Chow Down. Unfortunately it is memorable for the wrong reasons - it is a rock-style song, and doesn't fit with the rest of the score. It felt clunky and awkward, and although well-performed the style and tone were wrong.
The music was always perfectly performed, exactly the right volume and timing, and I really enjoyed watching the two musicians in the African boxes. It would have been impossible not to have them - the African instruments added an essential flavour to the music.
Throughout the show I found myself laughing, singing, on the edge of my seat with tension and at times close to tears. I know the story so well, yet it was like seeing it for the first time. The Lion King was absolutely superb, and if I had never seen Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, I would say it was the best musical I've ever seen. As it is it stands alongside those greats of musical theatre, holding its own, and hopefully will continue to do so for years to come.
Summary: Absolutely stunning
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