Hakuna Matata at the Lyceum Theatre – The Lion King is still stunning

It’s an amazing feeling to buy musical tickets for someone to see a show with when this very someone has taken you to the cinema years ago to watch the film this show is based on. The massive impact of The Lion King was even felt by my primary school self in late 1994 while completing the Panini album, listening to the CD non-stop, collecting toys and recording mock African choir pieces for C&A’s TV adverts, without doubt inspired by Elton John’s score. 25 years later not only Elton John’s biopic hit the big screen but also a visually beautiful but technically unnecessary CGI remake of The Lion King.

A logo like a West End icon

When the Der König der Löwen musical opened in Hamburg in 2001 I was not too keen on going (actors dressed up as animals did not sound too exciting) but I was gifted tickets by the other person who took me to the cinema (yip, we are talking parents) and I quickly changed my mind: This was an outstanding stage event, with its undeniable right to exist independently from the cartoon.

The Lyric Theatre hosts The Lion King since 1999

This evening we are in Theatreland London and its Lyceum Theatre where The Lion King opened twenty years ago could not be more different – instead of entering a modern multimedia temple you can only reach by (free) ferry shuttle over the river Elbe, we have true West End glamour: A façade with Corinthian pillars, inside gold painted stucco, ceiling frescos and red seats – a venue for an instant classic.

The restricted view was not a problem tonight – irony-off, honestly

Having followed a cheap ticket offer, we are on the very left front end of the Grand Circle. My seat has apparently a restricted view, but I happily duck under the barrier in front; it was yet another hectic day in the office and that means very little physical movement at the desk and I enjoy not sitting statically. My legs can move back and forth and so can my upper body: Sometimes I am looking over the barrier, other times underneath and this is an advantage as whole menageries of animal herds pass through the isles in the dress circles just below us and also on the boxes close by – there is nothing to complain about these seats.

Sit straight – and then this is still classified restricted view

The Lion King is maybe the only Disney original attributed Shakespearean and its maturity of the love and conflict shown proves once again doubtlessly powerful and touching. Disney’s stories are always only as good as their villains are believable and here I almost feel sorry for Scar, the manipulative and power-hungry uncle of crown prince lion cub Simba – but only almost because the kids actors in the first half are irresistibly good and later when both teenage and adult Simba has all my support gaining the rule over the savannah. Expect the savannah to be illustrated by shadow plays, by dancers representing a sea of grass and waves of choir music – rarely is a landscape represented on stage in such various and stunning ways in almost every scene. While the sight of mourning lionesses still fills me with sadness, we agree after the show (with cheeks glowing with West End sparkle) that the army of hyenas left the biggest impression on us. I drop twice that I really want that wart hog wig for Christmas. Let’s see what Santa brings, I will also accept another pair of tickets by the way.

West End glamour meets Disney’s savannah – and it works

**** out of 5 stars

Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice

Since 1999 at London’s Lyceum Theatre

We paid £23.50 for each seat (46 and 47) in row A and got the tickets from ATG Tickets.

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