From the opening strains of Nants’ Ingonyama and the parade of animals through the auditorium, this uplifting and at times breath-taking spectacle, will be one of the most anticipated openings on Melbourne’s theatre calendar in 2015.
It’s been nearly 10 years since The Lion King played the Regent Theatre, and following critically acclaimed seasons in Sydney and Brisbane, this production comes with an impressive pedigree. More than 75 million people have seen one of the 22 productions mounted globally since its Broadway debut 18 years ago.
Having seen this production at its opening in Sydney and more recently in Brisbane, The Lion King continues to delight, as all the elements come together in a visual feast of colour and movement, combined with some stunning performances.
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, complimented by two live percussionists on either side of the stage, adding another dimension to the musical 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 from South Africa, New Zealand, Asia and Australia, just to name a few. Adam De Leon and Annette Tran were a delight as Young Simba and Young Nala respectively – 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. Rob Collins as Mufasa and Nick Afoa as Simba continue to deliver strong and solid performances. Afao’s rendition of Endless Night, one of many musical highlights demonstrating his vocal strength and character, and how much he has grown in this role. Josslynn Hlenti is pleasingly sound as Nala, her rendition of Shadowlands, an exposition of clarity and beauty.
However it is Buyi Zama who commands the stage as Rafiki the Sharman like Mandrill. This show veteran 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 Melbourne ends. It deserves too!
The Lion King
Regent Theatre, Collins Street, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 19 February 2015 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 26 July 2015
Bookings: 1300 111 011 or online at: www.lionking.com.au
For more information, visit: www.lionking.com.au for details.
Image: Buyi Zama as Rafiki – photo by Deen van Meer ©Disney