Hit musical The Lion King is coming to Bristol Hippodrome
DISNEY'S The Lion King – the biggest stage musical ever to tour Britain – is coming to the Bristol Hippodrome, we can exclusively reveal.
Bristol will be the first city the show visits to begin a nationwide tour.
Disney's record-breaking show will be here from September for an 11-week run to mark the Hippodrome's 100th birthday.
A convoy of 18 lorries will transport more than 200 puppets and 700 handcrafted costumes and sets to the Hippodrome.
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And a cast of 52 performers and a production team of 150 people will then bring this much-loved story to life until mid-November.
Christiaan de Villiers, general manager of the Bristol Hippodrome, said: "Ever since the show opened in London our patrons have been asking 'When is The Lion King coming to Bristol?'
"Now, in 2012, our centenary year, we can finally confirm that the wait is over and what better way to celebrate.
"It's hugely prestigious that the first ever UK tour of The Lion King is going to be opening at the Bristol Hippodrome.
"This only furthers our wonderful relationship with Disney following the world premiere success of Mary Poppins in 2004.
The Lion King has been seen by over 10 million people in London and more than 65 million people in 15 different countries, but due to the massive scale of the production, it has never before toured this country.
The stalls seating in the Hippodrome will have to be completely rearranged so the impressive animal procession during the song Circle of Life can take place.
Altogether there are 232 puppets in the show from 18-foot exotic giraffes to a five-inch mouse as well as scenery that mirrors the vast African landscape.
The musical is based on the 1994 Disney animated film and tells the story of young lion cub Simba, as he journeys through life and struggles to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and his destined role of King.
Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions said discussions about taking the production out on a UK tour have been taking place behind closed doors for many years.
He said: "We didn't want to do anything with The Lion King that was anything but top drawer – if we were going to do this, we wanted to deliver the full Lion King experience."
Mr Schumacher said: "Each element adds up to make this a special show. The music has a lot to do with it. Tim Rice and Elton John wrote extraordinary songs for the movie, which now feature in the show. The music alone is so popular – Can You Feel The Love was a number one hit and won an Oscar and Circle of Life has become a classic song.
"We also have that wonderful African sound in the production, and by always having African nationals in the show, we maintain an authenticity. Fusing those two musical elements – the traditional folk music and Elton's pop music – is just so impactful.
"Then of course there is the visual element. Whether you are a child or an adult, the colours, the juxtapositions, the scale all amaze.
"Then we come down to the final piece in the jigsaw, which people rarely talk about, and that is the semantic value of the show. It's this idea that we are all connected, all have a responsibility to our community, that leadership can be corrupt and that someone can rise up and put things straight.
"It's that simple idea – the circle of life – people can get a little teary eyed during the show because you realise that we are all in this together and at some point we are all going to move on and the next generation will rise up."
Mr Schumacher added: "This has been a massive undertaking and it has taken years to get to this stage.
"This is the biggest theatrical event ever to have toured.
"Most companies don't have to travel with a herd of wildebeest for starters!
"We have to find homes for the elephant, the giraffes, the zebras, the ostriches – that's a lot of livestock to take on tour before we even consider the huge scenery, cast and crew."
"I am truly excited by this," he enthused. "I have been working on The Lion King in one form or another for over 21 years. I started working on the film in the November of 1990. There were 450 of us who worked on the original animated movie, but I was the first person in when we were coming up with the initial story and I'm still here!
"After coming up with the idea about these lions, I asked Tim Rice, who has just sold the film rights to Evita, if he thought this lion story would work as an animated film musical. He said 'Of course – I made a successful musical out of the obscure dead wife of an Argentinian dictator!' So it went from there.
"Years later, the then chairman of the Disney Company called me and said 'Let's do Lion King on stage' and I said 'That's the worst idea I've ever heard'. Finally, he pointed out that as the chairman of the studio, when he asked for something, he actually expected it! The rest is history."
The Lion King opened in 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. Over 10 million people have now seen the production in London and the show smashed national records in 2011 when it achieved the highest ever recorded weekly Gross Box Office in the West End.
Now in its record-breaking 13th year, the stunning show which boasts both brains and beauty, remains one of the top 10 longest-running musicals in West End history.
For the blockbuster production to open in Bristol is great news for the city and for the Hippodrome.
Epic and intimate in equal measure, the story begins with the kind and wise Lion King of the Pridelands, Mufasa, introducing his newborn son, Simba to the animals of the savannah.
But Mufasa's evil brother, Sca, desires to be king and along with his evil henchmen, the hyenas, he orchestrates the death of Mufasa. Led to believe he caused his father's death, Simba flees.
When Simba has fully grown, he must decide whether to return to his kingdom, which his evil uncle has almost destroyed.
The Lion King runs at The Bristol Hippodrome from September 6 to November 17. Previews start from August 31.
Tickets go on general sale in Bristol on February 22. They can be bought in person at the box office from 8.30am, on the telephone from 10am on 0844 871 3033 or via the internet on www.thelionking.co.uk.
Groups 10+ postal bookings only from today until February 10. Groups 10+ by phone from February 13. Ring 0844 871 3032.