'I have to see if I made the right decisions'
THE director of Disney's The Lion King has flown into Bristol to see the show.
Julie Taymor, who also designed the hit musical's award-winning costumes, was on the red carpet at the Bristol Hippodrome last night to see her creations in a new production.
The American director, who was the first woman to win a Tony Award for directing a musical, said she was "very interested and excited" to be in Bristol for the premiere of The Lion King's first UK tour.
She said: "The last time I was here I was casting the show, so now I have to see if I made the right decisions. I'll be a regular theatregoer like everyone else. I don't work on the show full time but I thought it was important for me to be involved in the decision of who is playing who. I'm probably more likely to take a chance on people or even change an accent – like I have done with Zazu."
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Back in the late 1990s Ms Taymor was seen as an unusual choice to direct The Lion King. She had a reputation as being rigorous, avant-garde and experimental. But her creativity transformed the hit Disney children's cartoon film into one of the biggest success stories in theatre.
As well as directing she designed the show's costumes, sculpted its masks and puppets and even wrote some of the lyrics to a new song, Endless Night.
After the success of the film Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Group, was asked to turn The Lion King into a musical. At the time he said he thought it was "the worst idea in the world".
But after involving Ms Taymor, Mr Schumacher said: "When we met I could see Julie had a new vision for the project.
"She was excited by the music, the setting and the opportunities for staging, She was challenged by the task of recreating something that theatregoers would know by heart, but she wanted them to once again feel in their heart."
Ms Taymor, who had not seen the film when she took Mr Schumacher's call, said she aimed to overturn people's expectations, which she does most strikingly in the opening scene of the show.
She said: "It does what theatre does that film can't, which is surround you. You have to set up this world right away for people to believe with you."
The show does this by deceptively simple means. A sheet of billowing silk becomes a waterfall, the African savannah is represented by performers carrying grass head gear and actors are visible in their costumes and masks, showing the audience that animals have a human element to them.
Ms Taymor said: "I think the key thing was creating these 'humanimals' as someone once described them. The animated movie has these amazing facial expressions from the actors. We didn't want to hide those in masks so we create this duality. It's a human story put in animal garb so you see the performer but you also see the animal and it was a lot of fun figuring out how to do that."
The Lion King is being staged at The Bristol Hippodrome until November 17, at 7.30pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2.30pm on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets cost £20-£72.50.
To book, call 0844 871 3012.