The Lion King

Nick Afoa as SimbaFrom the opening strains of Nants’ Ingonyama and the ensuing procession of animals through the auditorium, this uplifting and at times breath-taking spectacle, would have to be one of the most anticipated openings on Sydney’s theatre calendar.

Having opened at the Capitol Theatre some 10 years ago, The Lion King has an impressive pedigree. More than 70 million people have seen one of the 22 productions mounted globally since its Broadway debut 17 years ago.

A musical is a multifaceted beast, and none more so than this production as all the elements come together in a visual feast of colour and movement.

Julie Taymor’s vision is the driving factor of this show and draws on the rituals and symbolism of Africa and Asia, combining mask and puppetry (Taymor and Michael Curry), a harmonious score (various) and an intricate palette of colour in the scenic design (Richard Hudson), lighting (Donald Holder) and costumes (Taymor) to stimulate the senses.

The musical score by Elton John and Tim Rice is augmented by additional material by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer.

The resulting sound is a fusion of popular western music and the distinctive sounds and rhythms of Africa, from the ever popular Circle of Life, the Academy Award winning Can You Feel the Love Tonight through to the haunting beauty of Shadowland.

The orchestra under the baton of Richard Montgomery provides a richly timbered sound that is complimented by 2 live percussionists on either side of the stage who add another dimension to the score and overall presentation.

The Lion King features one of the most multicultural casts of any Australian-produced stage musical seen to date providing a melting pot of cultures.

Adrian Pulvirenti and Ayanda Dladla were a delight as Young Simba and Nala respectively on opening night – more so in the whimsical I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.

Josh Quong Tart is imposing and brings just enough evil to the role as the villainous Scar, Ruvarashe Ngwenya, Terry Yeboah and André Jewson expertly manipulate their characters as the three hyenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, while Russell Dykstra and Jamie McGregor as Pumbaa the warthog and Timon the meerkat provide plenty of comic relief.

Cameron Goodall is magnificent as the neurotic Zazu who at times verges on stealing the show, Josslynn Hlenti is pleasingly sound as Nala, while Rob Collins as Mufasa and Nick Afoa as Simba put in strong performances in their musical theatre debut.

However, it is Buyi Zama who commands the stage as Rafiki the Sharman like Mandrill. This veteran of the show acts as a guide to both Simba and the audience through the ‘Circle of Life’, her presence is an ultimate joy to watch.

The Lion King is a triumph of the spirit and of the stage, providing the audience with everything a musical should be. One can only hope it will venture elsewhere once its expected longish run in Sydney ends. It deserves to!

The Lion King
Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket (Sydney)
Performance: Thursday 12 December 2013
Season continues to 29 June 2014
Bookings: 1300 558 878 or online at: www.lionking.com.au

For more information, visit: www.lionking.com.au for details.

Image: Nick Afoa as Simba – Photograph by Deen van Meer  ©Disney

Review: Rohan Shearn

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