BWW Review: THE LION KING at Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands- Opens in Singapore with roaring success!
Singapore got a dose of Hakuna Matata as the international tour of The Lion King makes its stop and opened in the lion city on Friday (29 June).
This is the second time The Lion King is in Singapore. The first was in 2011 where it became the longest-running musical in Singapore's theatrical entertainment history playing to over 300,000 people during its eight-month season at Marina Bay Sands.
As the curtains rise to the iconic bars of "Circle Of Life" a soft chorus in the audience started to form, and I cannot help but wonder if this is going to be a sing-along nightmare. Fortunately, two lines into it, the chatter hushed and instead turned into gaping jaws. There were just so many things going on down the aisle and on stage, within seconds we were surrounded by a grand celebration of life in the animal kingdom.
It has been three years since I caught my first stage adaptation of Disney's The Lion King at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. But it has always had a special place in my heart. I was a student at university and miles away from home. It was natural feeling a little homesick spending my birthday away from family so my friends, in an attempt to cheer me up, brought me to the theatre, and it certainly paid off. The show's simple message of how everyone is connected in spirit regardless of where we are, gave me much needed assurance and I left the theatre feeling at peace.
Despite knowing that this I am about to watch The Lion King for the second time, there is still that tingling buzz of excitement. A timeless story, a fantastic score, spectacular costumes and over 200 puppets all performed by an international and diverse cast, what is there not to love?
Coming together for this tour, produced by Michael Cassel Group, is a truly global cast and crew of 51 representing 19 nationalities. The group includes Ntespa Pitjeng who returns to the role of the loveable 'Rafiki', having performed the role in the USA, UK, Brazil and Switzerland productions. From London's West End is Jonathan Andrew Hume who returns to the role of 'Simba' having played the role in 2011 in Singapore, and Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile in the role of 'Mufasa'. Also from the United Kingdom is music theatre performer Antony Lawrence as 'Scar'.
Australian actor André Jewson, who was part of the Australian tour, features as 'Zazu'; the charismatic New Zealand-born performer Jamie McGregor plays 'Timon' and South African favourite Pierre van Heerden returns as 'Pumbaa'. Rounding out the principal cast are South African performers and up-and-coming star Noxolo Dlamini as 'Nala'; Candida Mosoma returns to the role of 'Shenzi'; Björn Blignaut as 'Banzai'; and Mark Tatham as 'Ed'.
From the Philippines, sharing the role of Young Simba are Julien Joshua M. Dolor Jr., Gabriel P. Tiongson, and Omar Sharief L. Uddin; sharing the role of Young Nala are Sheena Kirsten Bentoy, Uma Naomi Martin and Felicity Kyle Napuli.
The performance was seamless, and the fluidity that the actors gave their characters merged human and animal into one. Noxolo Dlamini stood out especially with her charisma and movements as 'Nala' and her crisp and soulful performance of Can You Feel The Love Tonight was beautiful. The young lions, Julien Joshua Dolor as Young Simba and Uma Naomi Martin as Young Nala were adorable and incredibly talented, nailing their numbers in the show with enthusiasm.
The story, about brotherhood, spirituality, love and power follows Simba, the son of Mufasa, as a young cub till he becomes the king of Pride Rock. We enjoyed the effort to include Singaporean elements and context into the show. Different languages and quirks weaved into the show showcased Singapore's multicultural society. Jamie McGregor nailed the local enunciations throughout the show, and we caught them with ease.
The staging, which took three years to be developed from screen to stage, celebrated its 20th-anniversary last year and is the third longest running show on Broadway. Since the anniversary, the show's choreography has since been modernised and showcased in entirely different sets infused with the Javanese and Balinese technique in dance to the beat of the drums.
Infusing humanity into a story about animals is where the magic happens. On stage, we were treated to a display of puppetry. Not only were there the use of shadows, rods and shapes, there were also full-sized animals played by actors in costume, puppeteers, performers on stilts, dancers leaping across the stage. Nobody is hidden behind a curtain and everyone is an integral part of the performance.
Midway through the show, through the midst of Hakuna Matata, I found myself reflecting on our fast-paced and competitive mentality in our society. I thought if we injected this problem free philosophy in our lives, to stop worrying and start living, we could be able to appreciate better all that is around us, what a wonderful phrase that indeed is.
Animals can surely also teach us a thing or two about humanity. In today's world, it seems that somewhere along the way we stopped celebrating people for who they are and instead started qualifying each other. Accepting everyone and their difference and harmoniously co-exist is essential and something we need to work on, as Mufasa puts it "Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance."
Singapore has once again felt the love tonight both in spirit and in mind. The Audience (i) rose to our feet for a standing ovation, the show left us with lessons that we would take away from the theatre. The show is a warm and fun delight and one that everyone should definitely catch!
The Lion King is now playing at Marina Bay Sands till 23 September 2018 and tickets can be purchased at MarinaBaySands.com and all SISTIC channels.