the lion king

the lion king
The Lion King is the first production I have ever been to that made my cry within the first two minutes.

I couldn't even tell you exactly what it was that set me off... but it was something about the puppets and hearing that music (which has never made me cry before) and the whole sensory overload of the thing. Ma had the same reaction as me and said that it was when the giraffes came out... I'm not sure if I can pinpoint a moment, but I do know that when the elephant appeared I really lost it.

We also had really good seats, right on the aisle two rows back from the front... perhaps not so great to see things straight on (and there were a couple of occasions where I noticed performers in the wing before they appeared on stage) and we couldn't actually see the flat of the stage itself, but elephants, hyenas, birds and antelope all came right past me at various points in the show, so I'm not complaining in the slightest.

The show is a mix of the original Disney songs and a number of new songs that helped fill out some of the story points but aren't perhaps as catchy as the original songs. But I didn't even care.

Where this show excels is in the visuals and the performers.

the lion king: morning on the savannah
I bought the program, so I'll have to read all about how they came up with the look for the costumes and sets and puppets, but everything on stage is built with such beautiful design language... and you can feel the craftsmanship. But it doesn't feel like it's impossibly perfect, you can see how things work and I appreciate it all the more for that.

The designs have their roots in both the Disney movie (none more so than Zazu, Timon and Pumba) as well as African tribal designs as well as aesthetics from other tribal cultures. And it's all designed to look like natural materials (I'm sure a lot of it was, but what wasn't looked like it was) and uses a great natural colour palette.

It's also amazing how much they managed to do with what are, in effect, very stylised sets... the wildebeest stampede is amazing... as is the way the sun rises (as seen above), or the "torn" backdrops are used to change the time of day, and just the way they use coloured lights on the white backdrop to simulate everything from sunrise to deep jungle.

I loved how it wasn't just confined to the stage though... the animals walk down the aisles and there's a brilliant moment when Mufasa is telling Simba about the Kings of the Past where the ceiling of the theatre lights up with stars.

And using the ensemble cast as grass, flowers, plants and trees is a brilliant idea... especially towards the beginning where the grass sways in the wind.

the lion king: mufasa and scar square off
My favourite pieces of puppetry/design were Mufasa and Scar's heads... the masks are attached to their backs on a gimbal and swing forward when the actor bends down... and it was absolutely gorgeous to watch... giving them the real presence of a lion.

And the "gazelle wheel" is one of the most beautiful pieces of theatrical engineering I think I've ever seen.

There were a lot of really clever tricks built into the puppets too... I don't want to give too much away, but the way Mufasa's "spirit head" comes together gave me chills, and the design of Pumba is brilliant.

Oh and the cheetah... whoever was in the cheetah costume/puppet was amazing.

The cast is also excellent... Buyi Zama is wonderful as sangoma (witch doctor/healer) baboon Rafiki, and Josh Quong Tart manages to channel his inner Jeremy Irons but still puts his own stamp to Scar. He was one of my favourites actually... I mean I love the campness and oozing villainy of the original Scar and Josh definitely lived up to that. Thanks to the makeup I also didn't realise until I looked at the program later that Cameron Goodall, who I've seen twice on stage before, was playing Zazu.

the lion king: nick afoa as simba
Rob Collins as Mufasa, Nick Afoa as the adult Simba, Josslynn Hlenti as the adult Nala... they're all brilliant.

But Ruby Alexander as the young Nala totally stole my heart... she's so fierce and adorable.

Unfortunately due to the makeup, I'm not 100% sure which of the four actors playing young Simba was ours... I have a feeling it may have been Adrian Pulvirenti. He was excellent though, especially in the I Just Can’t Wait To Be King number.

I cannot recommend this highly enough... if you love the movie, if you've never seen the movie, even if you're not that bothered about musicals... it's absolutely fantastic and I would go again in a heartbeat!

What a birthday present!

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