“Does the Lion King really need another review?” asks a colleague in the office. As I enter a packed Sands Theatre on a Tuesday evening, towards the end of a three-month tour in Singapore, I realise he has a point.
As I wait in my seat, my five-year-old self-bursts out of me, and I can barely contain my childish excitement and anticipation as I wriggle around in my seat. The original feature film was released in 1994, and was the film of my childhood. Like many from my generation I know every song, love every character and can still recount most of the lines. I must confess that I’ve seen the musical version before, back in Manchester, but this does little to quell my enthusiasm.
The lights dim and a near-overwhelming scene bursts to life. A huge array of animals move from the back of the theatre, beautiful voices echo around the room from all directions and Pride Rock emerges on stage. It’s only the first song but I’m close to tears.
The brilliance of the Lion King musical is perhaps three-fold. Firstly, the costumes and masterful choreography truly bring the animals to life. The puppetry and elegance of the cheetah is particularly striking, because it seems so life-like. Secondly, the vocal performance is outstanding from every character, and even more so with the powerful chorus choir. And thirdly, at least for me, there is a sense of heart-warming nostalgia like no other.
All of the old favourite songs from the feature film are in the performance, plus a few which are unique to the musical. I’m not quite as awe-struck as when I first saw the stage version particularly as the acoustics of Sands Theatre somehow seem to absorb some of the ‘live’ ambiance, even in something as in your face as the Lion King. There are truly brilliant performances from the two child actors this time, and the set is as magnificent as the UK touring version. Spoiler alert: Mufasa dies. In this scene in particular the set is used to maximum effect, with hoards of charging wildebeest seemingly cascade down the cliffs indefinitely. It invokes a powerful emotional reaction in me, and I realise that this was probably the first film in which death had felt real as a child.
The first half ends on a happier note, when Simba meets the lovable rogues, Timon and Pumba. The most exhilarating moment is the opening of the second half, but I won’t spoil this one for you. The dance element of the musical is far more impressive in the second half, whilst Simba builds up the confidence to return home. Emotional reunions and a battle for pride rock ensue, with a return to the Circle of Life as a final piece. The final bow of the elephants, zebras, giraffes and of course Lions is fantastic in itself, and as I leave the theatre, I realise that I can’t wait to see it again.