The older lady beside me jumped in her seat and grabbed my arm — and no wonder. The stage had just exploded in a riot of sound and colour: the Lion King stage show had begun.
I’d seen the movie, of course. In fact, I’m of the generation it was aimed at, so it has a special place in my heart. But I’d never seen the theatre production, despite the fact that it’s been running for over twenty years and I’m certainly in London often enough!
Most of the posters feature a large stylised lion drawing, rather than pictures of the stage, and though I’d seen some photos of the lions’ heads used in the show, I was wonderfully unprepared for the spectacle of the Lion King on stage. I (and the woman beside me) gasped as the giraffes loped into view, stared in amazement as the antelopes leapt and danced, and exclaimed out loud as an enormous elephant made its way down one of the aisles. All to the sound of the ever-familiar “Circle of Life”.
Converting an animated movie about animals to a live theatre performance has to have been a ridiculous challenge, but the Lion King has pulled it off incredibly. Puppetry is a key part of the show, but the audience can always see the face of the human controlling the puppet too — so when watching Zazu reprimand Simba, you can see both the beak of the bird puppet moving, as well as the lips of the actor who brings the puppet to life. It’s quite an immersive experience.
The feeling of immersion continued throughout the show — especially just after the interval, when birds appeared throughout the theatre. They were propelled by actors in the aisles, in the boxes, on the stage — everywhere, really. My seat mate and I exchanged wondering glances.
Since the original movie was only 70 minutes long, and the stage show clocks in at 2.5 hours, there are a lot of extra songs. They all seemed to fit the show well, though none stuck in my head like good ol’ Hakuna Matata or I Just Can’t Wait To Be King. The costumes were spectacular and the dancers amazing. Some songs seemed a little different to how I remembered them, or maybe I just didn’t like the performance that night, but many of the actors (like Rafiki, and the adult Simba and Nala) shone in their interpretations of their roles.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening, and I think the Lion King musical is an excellent choice if you’re trying to decide which London show to see. It’s suitable for everyone, from the kids behind me to the older lady, who clutched my arm in farewell as she turned to leave the theatre. “Look after yourself,” she said, and I said goodbye with the feeling we’d had a great shared experience.
Note: we were provided with complimentary tickets to the show by From the Box Office, but all opinions are my own. Photos were provided.