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Stuart King

Second look: THE LION KING at Lyceum Theatre

The Lion King Musical - London In 1999 this reviewer first sat in the stalls of the Lyceum Theatre to witness the theatrical magic of the opening sequence of Disney’s The Lion King, during which the audience is gradually enveloped by wild creatures of the African plain come to pay homage to Mustafa and the arrival of his cub Simba.

Over 20 years may have elapsed since that night, but watching it again last evening, I’m happy to report that the moment remains as vibrant and intensely thrilling as I remember from all those years ago.

Disney occupies a huge cultural space in our hearts and the nostalgia-loving parts of our brains, with songs and comedy lines from every animated film as hummable and memorable as the day (often decades before) when they were first heard. In the case of Lion King, throw into that mix Elton John’s upbeat pop tunes and playful lyrics by Tim Rice and you can understand why this remains one of the most successful showbiz musicals of all time on both sides of the Atlantic and indeed around the world.

Many cast changes have taken place over the years but the real stars remain the puppetry, the playfulness (particularly of lovable characters Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog), the dazzling sun and Pride Rock set pieces, the sinister villainy of Scar, the inventiveness of the valley stampede scene and the songs “The Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. Bringing a genuine bit of South Africa to the current London production is Thenjiwe Thendiva Nofemele as Rifiki whose intensely beautiful and powerful ballad “He Lives In You” marks Simba’s transition from scared youngster to courageous leader and has always been a personal favourite of this reviewer.

The theatre was packed with eager patrons as it has always been, and no-one would be surprised if the winning formula goes on to entertain audiences for another 20+ years.