The Lion King (2015)

It’s been ten years since I first saw The Lion King, and the second time around was always going to be an improvement because there was no toddler behind me to ruin it. In 2005 some ignoramus had the brilliant idea to spend $100+ on a ticket for their three year old who persisted to ask questions throughout the entire show. This mainly consisted of “Mummy, when is the lion coming?” and “Why is the sky blue?” (I’m not even kidding). The Lion King is great for families, but for the love of Simba WHY WOULD YOU SPEND $100+ FOR YOUR TODDLER TO SEE A SHOW AND RUIN IT FOR EVERYONE ELSE? The lack of consideration for others is astounding. You’d be better off burning your money. But times have changed, and that kid will have grown up into a shitty teenager by now. Then again some things never change – like a Disney stage show.

Buyi Zama as Rafiki
Buyi Zama as Rafiki

For those over the age of six, The Lion King is first and foremost a spectacle of epic proportions. Opening with ‘Circle of Life’, performers and puppets swarm the stage representing the magnitude of the animal kingdom. The puppet design is incredible, and one can only marvel at the idea of the cast scrambling backstage to get into their costumes. However, I was surprised to find that the set design didn’t quite pack the same punch as I had remembered. Perhaps that’s because we’ve seen bigger spectacles since, with Love Never Dies the stand-out, as well as Wicked, Mary Poppins, King Kong and Spiderman (Broadway). The Lion King was ground-breaking at its advent, and paved the way for bolder production design, but it’s no longer the best.

Circle of Life
Circle of Life
Photography by Belinda Strodder
Photography by Belinda Strodder

With music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, it’s hard to go wrong, and I love that they throw in a bit of random rock here and there. The highlights are those we know and love from the film, ‘Circle of Life’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’, ‘Be Prepared’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and the best, ‘Hakuna Matata’ (although anyone who has seen The Book of Mormon will struggle not to recall ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’). Unfortunately, the additional songs added for the stage production are not particularly memorable – the only really enjoyable one being ‘Chow Down’. For lovers of tribal music the score may be more appreciated, but by musical theatre standards the extra songs all seem like filler. I’m not sure if it was a sound issue, but most lyrics were hard to decipher too.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight - Nick Afoa & Josslyn Hlenti
Can You Feel the Love Tonight – Nick Afoa & Josslyn Hlenti as Simba & Nala

The cast doesn’t feature many regular Australian musical theatre faces and it would seem that some are full time Lion-Kingers. Buyi Zama is still playing Rafiki and Jamie McGregor who is wonderful as Timon hasn’t been on my radar since the last time I saw him in the same role. Few of the leads are what you would call amazing singers (with the exception of Zama, the stand-out) and I didn’t leave the show fawning over anyone, but they’re all strong in their roles. Josh Quong Tart – who I’d only ever previously seen as Miles in Home and Away – is a menacing Scar and you can tell he’s having fun up there being the resident villain (I was surprised at the lack of boos at curtain call). Nick Afoa didn’t even bother hiding his Australian accent as adult Simba which took me out of the moment a little, but I still loved his “IT MEANS NO WORRIES” entrance (always the best part in the show because of that build), especially because it meant the kid playing Young Simba wouldn’t be returning. Rob Collins was everything you need in a Mufasa – a strong and commanding presence, while Josslyn Hlenti impressed as Nala. Laying the laughs on thick were the hilarious Cameron Goodall as Zazu, Russell Dykstra as Pumbaa, and Ruvarashe Ngwenya, Terry Yeboah and André Jewson as the hyenas. It was startling how well many of the actors sounded just like their counterparts in both the film and Broadway cast recording, which I’m sure young fans will absolutely cherish. However, I can’t help but feel a bit glum about Disney’s stranglehold on creative expression. This production is probably identical to the one ten years ago, as well as the Broadway, West End and other international renderings, with performers having to adhere to strict established protocols. God forbid anyone add their own unique touch to a role. But at least they’ve thrown in a Frozen reference to give it some currency (it is Disney after all).

Cameron Goodall and Josh Quong Tart as Zazu and Scar
Cameron Goodall and Josh Quong Tart as Zazu and Scar
Russell Dykstra and Jamie McGregor as Pumbaa & Timon
Russell Dykstra and Jamie McGregor as Pumbaa & Timon (Photography by Belinda Strodder)

The Lion King is a fantastic show for families, but be mindful of bringing kids who are obviously too young to sit quietly through a 2.5 hour show (I shouldn’t even have to say this, but so many people are ignorant about theatre etiquette). Children will delight at the array of animals and the grand scale of the production, and there are plenty of laughs to be had (though I never have understood why you supposedly can’t say ‘farted’ in front of the kids). With a simple but affecting story, The Lion King has something for everyone. Hakuna Matata!

4 stars

The Lion King is currently playing at The Regent Theatre

(Lead in image by Belinda Strodder)

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