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Theatre Review (London): The Lion King

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Editor’s note: This new review is of the long-running West End production.

The Lion King has been playing at London’s Lyceum Theatre since 1999, and has won many awards, including Tony and Laurence Olivier Awards. It is, quite frankly, one of the biggest and most successful West End musicals of all time. 

With all that in mind, I headed to the Lyceum Theatre ready for a truly spectacular and memorable night. Unfortunately, the musical didn’t quite live up to those (probably unfairly lofty!) expectations, although it was a great night of entertainment and one I would thoroughly recommend.

First, the good bits. The costumes and puppets are very, very good. I read beforehand that it took about 17,000 man-hours to create them, and after seeing them in the ‘flesh’ I can see why. The animals are extremely vivid and just lifelike enough to be realistic, without being a distraction. The start of the show, which sees all the animals of the ‘Pride Land’ amass for ‘The Circle Of Life’ – some coming down the aisles and brushing past the audience – is definitely a highlight and a truly immersive and memorable moment.

Likewise, the set is fantastic – usually very simple and basic in order to act as a complement to the action on the stage, rather than overpower it. It comes into its own in the slower-paced scenes – projecting Simba’s desolation and melancholic mood perfectly with sombre tones, without interfering with the staging and action.

As good as these elements are, the absolute highlight of The Lion King is the score – which largely stays faithful to Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice’s memorable soundtrack to the original Disney film. So we have ‘Circle Of Life’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’, ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’. Judging by the rest of the audience, these songs are just as popular now as they were back in the ’90s – maybe more so, if the energetic singing along is anything to go by!

Obviously, a musical lives and dies by the quality of its musical numbers – and The Lion King positively thrives on its songs. Like most good musical adaptations, it has some additional songs that have been written specifically for the stage. These include Zazu’s ‘Morning Report’, and ‘Shadowland’ – which marks a new scene depicting in more detail why Nala leaves the Pride Lands to seek help. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that Scar isn’t very nice!

Other than the new songs, the only real change from the film is the character of Rafiki – who is a female in the stage show. The rest is very faithful to the source material, which is why I think the show failed to live up to my raised expectations. I was far too familiar with the story and the characters and knew exactly what was going to happen and when.

It may seem like nitpicking, as adaptations are by their very definition similar to the source material, but with no real dramatic tension the musical failed to meet my very high expectations. Despite this, the costumes, the great songs, and the nolstagic element of seeing a well-known tale played out in front of me made for a thoroughly enjoyable night out.

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend The Lion King to anyone – whether they’re familiar with the original film or not.

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About Luke Glassford