The Lion King (Theatre Royal, Plymouth - tour)
Disney's ''The Lion King'', now playing Plymouth as part of a UK tour, has fabulous costumes, magnificent mask and puppet design, adding up to a vivid spectacle
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Disney's The Lion King continues its national tour with sell-out runs.
A family bums-on-seats show (though surprisingly those bums stayed on the seats, with no standing ovation on press night in Plymouth despite the clear enjoyment of the audience), it is easy to see where all those awards were earned.
Tony Award-winner Julie Taymor was an inspired ask when Disney commissioned the piece following on from the success of the film, not only directing but also responsible for the fabulous costumes, magnificent mask and puppet design, and additional music and lyrics. All of which add up to the vivid spectacle as the Serengeti arrives on stage.
And it is the visual which dominates – the familiar tale of Simba is simple and perhaps weak (and with a slightly overlong first half), Elton John and Tim Rice's score OK (with the exception of the excellent "Circle of Life" and popular "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?") while the excellent live music is let down by the less than crisp sound production. But placing the percussion and drums in boxes to either side of the stage is genius, and the breath-taking, tear-jerking opening five minutes stays with you forever (it is pretty much all I could recall having seen this some seven years ago, but my rapt children remember the lot, prompted perhaps by the almost worn out video).
Some 45 cast members and myriad puppets – from The Adventures of T-Bag's John Hasler's cheeky meercat Timon and smelly warthog Pumba (Lend Me A Tenor's Lee Ormsby) to the cavorting gazelle and circling birds; from towering elephants and giraffe to the rancid goose-stepping hyenas – populate the stage with colour and charisma.
Also of note are the strident Gugwana Dlamini (original soundtrack and much more), superb as Rafiki invoking the atmosphere of Africa, and Stephen Carlile (Brideshead Revisited, Evita) as a wonderfully camp Scar, while Cleveland Cathnott is regal as Mufasa.
Beautiful Nicholas Nkuna (Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls) and Ava Brennan are engaging as the older Simba and Nala, children's author Meilyr Sion gives Zazu a Scottish twist and Plymouth boy Daniel Norford, Me'sha Bryan (Live 8, Concert for Diana), and Philip Oakland provide comedy as the lead hyenas.
All about the spectacle, this is a good night out for all the family.
Playing at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth until 15 March.
– Karen Bussell