Discover how the blockbuster musical evokes the colours and creatures of the awe-inspiring Serengeti
Staging The Lion King is no mean task: re-imagining a classic as cherished as the 1994 animated feature is sure to ruffle a few feathers, but how does one do the sheer majesty of Pride Rock justice? Or evoke a bone-rattling stampede inside the walls of a theatre? Yet acclaimed director and designer Julie Taymor defied naysayers with her visionary take on the iconic tale, which opened on Broadway in 1997 and has since toured in every continent except Antarctica. More than 20 years on, The Lion King continues to dazzle and uplift audiences in equal measure.
As the musical now prepares to start its run at the Edinburgh Playhouse – which has been extended to 29 March due to phenomenal demand – Scottish audiences will now have the chance to experience the magnificence for themselves. With so much whirling, complex scenography on stage, it can sometimes be difficult to fully appreciate the intricate details that have gone into the production. But the show's designers have gone to painstaking lengths to bring the Serengeti Plains to life right before our eyes, highlighting the tremendous diversity of wildlife in this most striking of ecosystems.
Twenty-five different animal species are represented on stage, from four-metre-long elephants and looming five-metre-tall giraffes, down to the tiny trick mouse perched atop Scar's cane. Indeed, the show is made up of more than 232 puppets, from evocative rod and shadow puppetry to the full-sized figures that tower over the stage. In the original production, Taymor and her team dedicated 37,000 hours towards building the puppets and masks – the equivalent of more than four calendar years.
No detail was spared in the costuming and set design of the show either, with over 350 intricate outfits worn on stage – including 22 hand-beaded corsets made out of thousands of individually-sewn beads – and a rising sun constructed from 43 aluminium ribs attached to one another by strips of silk, throwing light over Simba's royal inheritance.
Aside from the animal kingdom, The Lion King also pays tribute to the vibrant cultures that the story takes inspiration from. Alongside iconic numbers such as 'I Just Can't Wait to be King,' six languages from the African continent are spoken or sung on the show, which features performances in Sothi, Swahili, Zulu, Tswana, Congolese and Xhosa. The 50-strong cast is buttressed by a further 100 people backstage, making sure the magic comes together on stage.
So if you think you know the story – think again. Be transported into the blazing sunlight this winter by the powerful rhythms and vivid colours of The Lion King.
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Written by: Roger Allers, Elton John (music), Tim Rice (lyrics), Mark Mancina (music & lyrics), Lebo M (music & lyrics), Hans Zimmer (music & lyrics), Julie Taymor (lyrics), Irene Mecchi
Julie Taymor's puppet-powered stage version of Disney's spectacular tale of a dead king and an errant son is a feast of exuberant theatre for the whole family, with show-stopping visual effects, gripping drama and plenty of laughs. It reinvents the film for a whole new audience.