I remember seeing The Lion King Musical for the first time with my son when he was younger. We sat near the aisle and experienced the grand entrance that left us in awe. To this day we still talk about how certain theatre moments will stick with us forever. It was the first major Broadway musical production he had seen and experience that, as a parent, I will never forget. The wonder in his eye, the laughter, and all the “why” questions that followed – typical of any curious little one. The Lion King has returned to Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre for the summer and it reminds us why it remains to be a family favourite.
Based on the Disney film of the same name, the storyline follows the life of a young lion cub named Simba who is heir to the throne in the Pride Lands. His father, Mufasa, explains the circle of life to his young son and how one day he will be the ruler. However, Simba’s bitter uncle Scar has plans of his own to take over the kingdom that he believes was rightfully his until Simba was born. Scar lures the father and son duo to the plains where he hoped a stampede of wildebeests would accidentally kill them both. Simba manages to escape but after believing Scar that it was his fault his father died, he runs away. Simba then meets up with Timon and Pumbaa and was raised “Hakuna Matada” — with no worries. But when Simba hits his youthful years, something was yearning inside him and after reuniting with his long lost friend Nala, he decided to his homeland where he faced the damage Scar had done to the kingdom. He faced bravery straight on remembering his father’s words.
This is a spectacular production from start to finish. The music, the choreography, costumes, and set design work are awe-inspiring. Some of the most well-loved Disney “stick with you forever” kind of songs including Circle of Life and Can You Feel The Love Tonight (music by Elton John and Lyrics by Tim Rice) are performed by some of the most unforgettable voices. The opening sets the tone for the musical with Rafiki the Mandrill (played by Mukelisiwe Goba at our performance) in her iconic celebratory call for all the animals in the kingdom to gather for the exciting presentation of the new cub. Mufasa, the Lion King father, (Gerald Ramsey) has a deep and confident voice that lives up to the bar set by James Earl Jones — the voice of Mufasa in the Disney film. We were particularly blown away by Nala (Nia Holloway) in her absolutely heartfelt performance of Shadowland.
What also makes this musical exciting is how the production incorporates a variety of costumes and puppetry to tell the story. The range of motion in some of the costumes that are custom fitted onto a few of the performers’ bodies need to be seen in real life. Zazu, the Red-billed Hornbill (Greg Jackson) has some of the best punchlines in the script (and some off script) as the King’s majordomo and caretaker of Simba. Jackson is very entertaining, who doesn’t miss a beat as the Hornbill and his alter-ego dressed as a butler. Timon, the Meerkat (Nick Cordeileone) is attached to his costumes but fills the shoes completely of the Meerkat with his sarcasm and quick wit. Pumbaa, the Warthog (Ben Lipitz, who’s performed with Lion King in over 5000 shows! ) is one of the most loveable goofy characters in the show. Lipitz is positioned around the belly of the costume as you soon realize his character is always hungry. Laughing Hyenas Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed (Martina Sykes, Keith Bennett, and Robbie Swift) are deliciously evil with their protruding heads. At first glance, they look a bit scary but then quickly even the youngest audience members come to realize the hyenas are just silly and mischevious. It’s not just the main cast that is mesmerizing to watch — keep your eye on the Cheetah (Sasha Caicedo) in particular. Her movements are breathtaking.
The Lion King and it truly is a real treat for the summer months here in the city. So much more to experience in a live performance from the beautiful costumes and set design to the movements and entertaining moments. Highly recommended to see for the first time or to see again.
The Lion King won six 1998 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical. The Lion King has also earned more than 70 major arts awards including the 1998 NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the 1999 Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, the 1999 Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Event of the Year and the 1999 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Choreography and Best Costume Design.
Having played over 100 cities in 20 countries on every continent except Antarctica, The Lion King’s worldwide gross exceeds that of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history. We can see why.
Disney’s The Lion King is now on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto through till August 4, 2019. More info at www.mirvish.com.