The Lion King is Disney’s stage adaptation of the 1994 animated classic which I finally got to see this weekend at Birmingham Hippodrome.
To say this is a musical I wanted to see for a long time is very much an understatement. When I was little I had a few of the Disney Renaissance movies on VHS (very 90s) and I remember being hooked by the trailer for the show which was when it first opened in 1997 (I believe it was either on the video for Mulan, Hercules or Tarzan but not sure which) and since then it’s always been on the lit of shows to see.
Anyway it is on for a seven week run at Birmingham’s Hippodrome this summer so we finally went to see it.
The plot of the show essentially mirrors that of the movie – prepare for spoilers in the next section (though as it is one of the highest grossing movies of all time it probably won’t surprise anyone).
The show opens much like the original film, with Rafiki presenting, Simba as Mufasa’s young son to the animals of the Pride Lands, which his father rules over. However is brother Scar is jealous and wants to take the throne and remove Simba as heir. He initially tries to do this by tricking Simba and his friend Nala to explore outside the Pride Lands, saying there is an elephant graveyard when they are set upon by hyenas.
This plan is scuppered at the last minute as Mufasa rescues them both so Scar hatches another plan, to have Simba practice his roars and the hyenas to scare some wildebeest to cause a stampede into Simba’s path. Mufasa comes to his aid but in trying to save himself Scar appears and pushes him off the cliff, causing his death.
Scar then blames Simba for the death and tricks him into fleeing, he tells the hyenas to give chase but as they believe the desert will kill him the hyenas let him escape.
In the desert, Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog and grows up to live with them in a carefree, simplistic life. Meanwhile Scar takes the throne but through forcing the lions to over hunt to feed the hyenas, the land runs barren and dry and many animals migrate elsewhere. Scar also feeling vulnerable wants an heir to the throne and tries to get the now adult Nala to be his wife. Nala flees to try to find help and finds Simba.
However Simba is guilt-ridden by what happened and refuses to return, until Rafiki, the shaman mandrill comes and reminds him of who he is and that Mufasa lives in him. He then decides to return to the Pride Lands with Nala, gets Scar to confess and defeats him and the hyenas. Simba and Nala are then crowned the King and Queen with their own son in a mirroring of the opening scene.
The show is an amazing spectacle from start to finish. The use of puppetry, costume and makeup to bring the African Pride Lands to life is both unique and like nothing you have ever seen before on stage.
Every scene had beautiful scenery and staging to look at, from the colourful giraffes during “I Just Can’t Wait To be King” to the drama and tension of the stampede scene. It is amazing just how well the movie is translated across to the stage.
I also love how makeup and costume was used to define the characters, rather than trying to make the actors look like the animals – for example both actors who play Mufasa and Scar where elaborate headdresses to signify their roles as lions. In the program, the shows’ director Julie Taymor describes this as a “double event”, where you can see the animals, whether actor or puppet but also the actors and puppeteers playing them which helps to show the work that goes into creating this show on stage.
I also must shout out the musical numbers. All the big songs from the classic movie are here and ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ both sound incredible and hit differently in the theatre, sung live in front of you. I have to admit I even got a bit emotional during both renditions of the Circle of Life as it is a very powerful scene on the stage.
The music also includes fantastic African choral music which helps keep the sense of place and there are a few new songs added to the show which all fit in nicely with the original numbers (fun fact, including one added from the straight to video animated sequel, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride). The show also had a little musical nod to another Disney record-breaking animated feature film which I won’t spoil here.
Overall the show more than lived up to the expectations I’ve had since I was little and I would definitely recommend going to see it. It is on in Birmingham until September 16th and you can book your tickets here.