QPAC presented the Queensland premiere of Disney’s award-winning musical spectacular The Lion King at the Lyric Theatre last week, to a well-deserved unanimous standing ovation.
Having missed the musical last time round (as it did not come to good ol’ Brisvegas), it was with bursting, child-like excitement that my niece (the Junior critic) and I skipped up to the Lyric theatre and took our seats (four rows back), for opening night. Now as a theatre reviewer, one should not play favourites, but I think I have a new one (shhh, don’t tell Wicked).
The Lion King has everything – powerful singing, exuberant dancing, African inspired music, vibrant costumes, epic sets, and massive animal puppets – what’s not to love?!
Based on the Disney animated movie of 1994, this spectacular production is a coming of age story, jungle style. When scheming brother Scar (Josh Quong Tart) kills Mufasa (Rob Collins), the king of the Pridelands, young Simba who is next in line for the throne is persuaded by Scar that he is to blame and is shamed into exile. Scar assumes the throne, governs selfishly and encourages unrest in the kingdom of animals. Nala (Josslynn Hlenti), Simba’s childhood friend and betrothed, leaves the pack in search of help, and discovers that Simba (Nick Afoa), is alive, all grown up, and very much something to purr at. Simba must accept his place in the circle of life in order to lead his tribe into a renewed time of peace and a land of plentiful.
The cast for this production are world class, as is to be expected. Simba’s jungle pals Timon (Jamie McGregor) and Pumbaa (Russell Dykstra), are an hilarious duo. McGregor almost steals the show as the wisecracking meerkat, complemented wonderfully by Dykstra’s lovable gas-challenged warthog. Cameron Goodall also provided many comical moments as the cheeky Zazu; his musical parody of ‘Let it Go’ was especially chuckle worthy.
Josslynn Hlenti’s portrayal of Nala was full of poise, dignity, and pride. Nick Afoa showed a lovely emotional vulnerability as adult Simba, the reluctant heir to the kingdom; and Josh Quong Tart was sensationally evil as Scar.
Buyi Zama who plays Rafiki, the tribe’s spiritual guide, undoubtedly has one of the most powerful voices on the planet and is continuously awe-inspiring with her vocals, enthralling audiences every time she steps on stage. But like any good multi-layered character, the multi-talented actor rounded out the role with cheeky humour and great empathy. It comes as no surprise that Zama has played this role all over the world including Broadway, London, and South Africa.
But the real star behind this colossal production is director, costume designer, and mask/puppet co-designer Julie Taymor with her creative, ingenuity in bringing such a spectacle to the stage. Combining masks and large-scale puppeteering, and traditional shadow puppetry, along with Garth Fagan’s superb choreography, Richard Hudson’s wonderful scenic design, and Donald Holder’s beautiful lighting design, the animal kingdom is brought to life in a visual spectacular that just fills you with child-like wonderment.
The mechanised contraption by which a herd of antelopes is attached to various wheels and cogs, makes the animals appear to leap at different intervals, and is truly something to marvel at. The highly stylised masks are also impressive as they fall perfectly into their animal-like position when the actor bends forward.
Musically, the show is a mix of pop tunes with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, and additional African influenced numbers by LeboM and Mark Mancina; creating a fusion of contemporary sounds with traditional African rhythms and chants. Under the mighty baton of musical director, Richard Montgomery, the deeply emotive score swells over the entire production, creating a highly evocative atmosphere filled with spirit and heart.
It is easy to see why The Lion King since its Broadway premiere in 1997, has been seen by more than 70 million people and translated into eight different languages. The ultimate family musical, The Lion King provides a warm-hearted, feel-good lift to the sprits, and is highly recommended for witnessing the top echelons of what theatre can achieve, both in craft and in the audience experience.
The Lion King will play at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre until January 2015, and will then transfer to Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from February 2015.