It’s probably a coincidence that The Lion King has “King” in its title.
But it’s an apt inclusion, for a story which has ended up becoming one of the most beloved franchises since its release over 27 years ago. From sequels and TV shows, to video games and live-action remakes, it’s had it all. So it makes sense that it has a musical.
So suffice to say, “King” is more than apt to describe its success and accolades since inception. Now, the International Touring Company for The Lion King has finally made their way to Aotearoa. While it can be seen as some small reward for our management of a present global pandemic, it’s also a way for the company to get back to the work they haven’t been able to do for almost 18 months. And I believe the actors reflect that in their performance.
Firstly though, the great thing about The Lion King musical is I don’t have explain the story. We already know what happens. The beats for it are close to exactly the same as the original. The beats which do change, are the additional musical numbers. The majority of these are pulled from the “sequel” soundtrack, Rhythm Of The Pride Lands, which you definitely didn’t know about because you’re a fake fan (same). This soundtrack was pulled together by the talents of my guys Lebo M. and Hans Zimmer. Hoping to better represent the African influence and background of The Lion King through it, we see tracks such as ‘He Lives In You’, ‘Shadowland’ and ‘Endless Night’ adapted to stage, to better flesh out the story of Simba. This was then expertly pulled together and delivered by the original Broadway Director, Julie Taymor.
Which is continued to be delivered by an exceptional International ensemble cast today.
Yes, that little hook about how the actors reflect their 18 month hiatus in the performance wasn’t just there as bait. It was setting up the opportunity to talk about how fantastic they are after briefly touching on the things they perform. It’s up to them, and the incredible Production team, to show audiences what they’ve missed. What we’ve all missed. And it shows in the sheer joy they have on-stage. They know the kind of prestige this show carries, and they do an incredible job of showing it.
Of course, we must laud our representation in this cast with lead, Nick Afoa. His work as Simba is hugely impressive, and when I returned to the original Broadway recordings, I couldn’t help but crave the vocals he produced on the night. His exceptional notes in ‘He Lives In You (Reprise)’ show why he was selected for the role. It’s also why he’s performed as Simba on London’s West End (the UK equivalent of Broadway). This is in turn matched by Amanda Kunene‘s Nala, who absolutely smashes ‘Shadowlands’ out of the park vocally and emotionally (Don’t Cry Challenge!).
Scar is expertly handled by Antony Lawrence, who manages to further camp up the performance delivered by its progenitor, Jeremy Irons. The incredible pomposity fully on-display while delivered remarkably in the costume they have to wear. It’s hard to describe how it manages to recreate the slinkiness of Scar, but by god does it.
The presence of James Earl Jones is captured entirely by Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile. The sheer mana and force of Mufasa delivered in stature and voice, as they get their own song for the musical. Also yes, “everything the light touches” is just as beautiful on stage, especially when performed alongside our own Maharanui Muriwai Kaiwai-Wanikau.
And the list simply must go on.
From Andre Jewson‘s wall-breaking work as Zazu, to the mad hyenas in Candida Mosoma, Bjorn Blignaut and Mark Tatham. From Lungile Khambule‘s mourning Sarabi, to “OUR BOYS!” Timon and Pumbaa in Nick Mercer and Pierre van Heerden.
It is all so relentlessly charming.
There’s a reason The Lion King Musical is the third-longest running show on Broadway. It captures the magic of the film, and breathes it to life in front of your eyes. I suspect it may be some form of Rafiki magic. Conjured into being when Futhi Mhlongo walks on stage as them. But it could be due to the talent and genius of the creators and performers of the show. There’s something about theatre that just shows the creativity and power of the arts. And I’m not just saying that because animals run through the audience.
My parents have just returned from the Rugby World Cup in Sydney. While they attended many games there, the thing that became most memorable to them on that trip was not the Rugby. It was The Lion King Musical. I’ve heard about the majesty of this incredible show to this very day. I’m sure my Dad tells me about it at least once every year. Yes Mum and Dad. It is an incredible show. And I can finally share that with you.
Look, I'm sure the majority of reviews are saying "THIS SHOW IS A MUST-SEE" or "YOU MUST SEE THIS SHOW!". There's a good reason for it. It is undeniably good, with an immersive quality to it you can't capture in film.
From the delivery of live vocals into your ear, you get the small nuances of imperfection that in fact lead to perfection. Nothing is perfect, which is why it errs ever so closely to it.
And seeing Aotearoa represented so strongly in this International scene is exciting, because they do so effortlessly.
So yes, it is a must-see. If you have the opportunity, do it. Because my parents were right. Like many other times in my life I suspect. The Lion King Musical is incredible.