Lion King’s ingenuity still makes it a must-see

Lion King

Lion King - Credit: Archant

The Lion King

Lyceum Theatre

Fourteen years after it opened in the West End, it’s timely to revisit long-running hits to remind yourself just why they were an instant success in the first place.

The spectacular opening number Circle of Life, when a cavalcade of animals process through the auditorium, announces the intentions of this vivid aural and visual feast.

It’s all here, director Julie Taymor’s inventive staging and costume designs, an uplifting number culled from Disney’s well-loved film – oh, and the wonder in the eyes of my five-year-old boy seeing it for the first time.

You can be snooty about the Hamlet-esque plot of a lion cub robbed of his rightful throne by a scheming uncle who murders his father, but the kids in the audience wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

They are too busy enjoying the brilliance of sunrise on the savannah or being caught up in the creepiness of the Elephant’s Graveyard or the jeopardy of Simba and Nala.

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Taymor’s genius was to plunder the riches of age-old theatrical devices to translate the original animation to the stage.

We’re accustomed now to puppetry in family shows like War Horse but the use of it here was trailblazing.

Garth Fagan’s choreography brings more to the party. A physical translation of animal traits, from the low-life hyenas to the meercat and warthog who save Simba’s life and bring humour to the fore.

The animal masks atop faces, poetic touches like ribbons representing rivers of tears, the stirring African choral rhythms of the score all make this very much an original live theatrical event rather than simply cynical cashing in on a hit movie and Elton John/Tim Rice’s Oscar-winning song.

Until further notice.