BWW Review: THE LION KING, Bristol Hippodrome
Occasionally, when musicals head out on tour, the grandeur and the spectacle that exists to thrill audiences in London seems to get lost somewhere around the M25. Thankfully, that's not the case with Disney's The Lion King.
As a veritable Noah's ark of animals troop down the reconfigured Bristol Hippodrome auditorium (in what might take the prize for best musical opening scene) to the sound of Elton John's famous "Circle of Life" being belted out, it's clear there is no shortage of spectacle here.
If there is a downside to such an opening, it's that the bar is set so high that you're sat waiting for the next breathtaking moment. Thankfully, the show soon delivers.
In the production that made her name, Julie Taymor is a one-woman creative department - responsible for the direction, costume design, co-design of the masks and puppets, and additional lyrics. It's here that The Lion King has succeeded most in its transition from screen to stage: Taymor's use of dance, mask and puppetry allows the production to find its theatricality.
The large ensemble lets Taymor build each of the big numbers from a sparse expanse of stage to gloriously busy spectacle. It's a show that remains satisfyingly low-tech; the hand-controlled puppets show how much can be done with this intricate craft.
Thankfully, all our favourite lines from the film are all present and correct, as are the songs - with a liberal helping of additional material. There will be no disappointed children walking away. Despite the show being over 20 years old, a smattering of up-to-date references give the dialogue a pleasing vibrancy.
Bath-born Richard Hurst has the right amount of menace as Scar in what amounts to a homecoming show, and Dashaun Young has the perfect tone for adult Simba. Though it's Thandazile Soni, whose voice soars over the African plains as Rafiki, who is a constant highlight.
With the wind of the new film version behind it, The Lion King is set for another bumper tour. As Timon and Pumbaa would say, "Hakuna Matata - what a wonderful phrase". And be assured - this show ain't no passing craze.
Disney's The Lion King at Bristol Hippodrome until 23 November, then continues on tour
Photo credit: Disney