There are shows that you cannot resist going back to again and again. One in particular never fails to surprise me, which is odd as I had never seen the Disney cartoon The Lion King, an age thing I guess. But once I had been persuaded to go along I was spellbound, so much so that I was more than happy to go back – twice.
It’s over 17 years since it hit the West End stage and it continues to pack the Lyceum for eight performances a week. So what is the magic that makes it such a global success? Well you surely have to start with the story, a good story that works on several levels, a tale that will captivate the hearts of the very young and the not so young. Then there is the spectacle, and The Lion King is truly spectacular.
Designer and director Julie Taymor creates a superb vision of jungle and grassland sing abstraction, colour and light in what remains an innovative way, after so so many years. I love the fact that all of this she achieves by using pure stage craft. I know that for every body on the stage there are two behind the scenes pulling the whole together, and I am sure that computers must play a part in achieving the complex scene and costume changes for every performance – but that is where the technology stops. From there on the show is performed by humans and by puppets, the most beautifully realised puppets that I have ever seen.
A superb vision of jungle and grassland
It is hard to imagine how they will achieve some of the major set pieces of the story and in particular the scene of the stampede, but Taymor’s vision is a spectacular piece of work in which dancers and puppets work in total synchronisation to incredible effect. It has to be one of the most impressive pieces of theatre design to have hit any stage for many a year, breathtaking stuff to be sure.
So we have a great story, and we have spectacle, next we need heart and to give the show heart you need a talented cast of multi-talented performers. One thing that has always been noticeable about the cast of The Lion King is that it is not dependent of well known stars, it’s true that some cast members have found stardom but this is not how it works, far from it, and if ever there was an ensemble piece this is it. That said credit has to go to all of the principle actors who deliver the show with heart and soul, bringing to life each and every character and every emotion, from the humour to the sadness, and there is both emotion to explore and exploit.
Finally, and in no way least, you have the music and the songs, striking from that very first moment when… well let’s not steal that moment from you if you haven’t seen the show, let’s just say that the evening is packed with amazing music and songs, many by Elton John and Tim Rice, brilliant dance, laughs and tears. It may have been around over 17 years but it looks like it’s here to stay.
The Lion King, The Lyceum Theatre, 21 Wellington Street
London WC2E 7RQ
Box Office 0844 871 3000