The Lion King
- Kelly Apter
- 17 December 2019
Disney musical proves it's still ahead of the pack when it comes to theatrical ingenuity
Necessity is the mother of invention, which is perhaps why a musical that should have been impossible to stage continues to play to sell-out crowds over 20 years after opening.
When Julie Taymor was asked to lift Disney's smash hit animation, The Lion King, off the screen and onto the stage, she was forced to think outside the box. Fluffy animal suits and video images of the African plains just wouldn't cut it.
Instead, she dug into her theatrical roots, drawing on puppetry techniques from Asia and Europe and taking the least obvious route possible. The result is a show that could entertain anybody with a pulse, regardless of age.
Opening number 'Circle of Life' sets the scene with its incredible majesty. Animal puppets, all manipulated by highly skilled performers, enter the auditorium from every angle, making their way to the stage like a herd headed for the waterhole. Elephants, rhinos, gazelles, birds – the animal kingdom is in full effect, belting out Elton John and Tim Rice's iconic song.
It's a showstopper of an opener, but even with the bar set this high, the show continues to deliver. The songs come thick and fast, the pop sensibility of John and Rice seamlessly interwoven with Lebo M's authentic and intoxicating African score. In a rare move, the large ensemble cast is just as important, and appreciated, as the leads – whether you're playing a blade of grass or a key character in The Lion King, your presence is essential.
But, in a show awash with talent, the biggest round of applause has to go to Taymor and her remarkable vision. The beautiful and clever setting for the reprise of 'He Lives in You' would be worth the ticket price alone – but it's just one of countless gems this timeless production has to offer.
And while it may be the tale of a young lion cub trying to find his place in the savanna, the metaphor for personal growth (and considering the natural world around us) couldn't be more appropriate for humans right now.
Edinburgh Playhouse, until Sun 27 Mar, and touring.