Polished production was well worth the wait
IDON'T think there has ever been a show so anticipated, or long awaited, as Disney's The Lion King. There have been banners around Bristol for what seems like forever, queues snaking St Augustine's Parade when tickets went on sale, and dozens of press stories.
Not only embarking on its first UK tour, but premiering in the city, this musical was something special before the curtain had even been raised. The first surprise was the new seating layout in the theatre, creating two aisles where there was once one, and there were more in store when these new aisles became part of the performance.
As the beautiful rhythmic music starts for Circle of Life, the song the entire music is based upon, a menagerie takes to the stage and we are transported to the African plains. The tone is so reverential you almost wonder if they've played their trump (or should that be trunk) card too soon?
But there were more treats in store. Some performers have puppet elements to them, others the mannerism and movements of their chosen animal. Although the dancer is clearly visible it's the animal persona that comes alive.
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The story unfolds as young lion prince Simba, played by Auden Barnes and then Nicholas Nkuna, is told by his father, Mufasa, he is first in line to be king. His evil uncle Scar, disgruntled by this sudden change in his own fortunes plots revenge, and proceeds to kill his brother and persuade Simba to run away.
Simba flees the kingdom and forges an unlikely alliance with warthog Pumbaa and meerkat Timon but when he bumps into childhood friend Nala he has to decide if he should follow the destiny his father set out for him.
Hailing from 12 different countries, the 48-strong cast is as enchanting and as diverse as the life in the Savannah. And as you'd expect from a Disney production this is polished, professional and very, very good.
Gugwana Dlamini as Rafiki has an incredible voice and evokes both comedy and poignancy as she tries to help Simba. Cleveland Cathnott, as Mufasa, also showcases a powerful, majestic voice, while the relationship between Nicholas Nkuna, as Simba, and Carole Stennett, a Lion King veteran, as Nala, is full of chemistry and promise.
Bath's Stephen Carlisle's excellent, slightly camp, Scar, and Meilyr Sion's wonderful Zazu, with a surprise Scottish accent, are also worthy of mention.
Thanks to the film most people will know the music, by Elton John and Tim Rice, although there are some new numbers for the stage version. He Lives in You was a particularly bewitching number.
Despite being adapted for a touring production there was nothing lacking in this production. The special effects and innovative methods of scene setting, costume creation, and puppetry are ambitious. Simple silhouettes and the stampede scene are some of the most effective.
It might have been long awaited but it was certainly worth it.